Saturday, November 28, 2009


(via Blackadder; I've run up the contrast a little. These jpg images seem to fade with time...) This has been around for some time; before blogging took off, and most people had to waste their time with e-mail instead, this photo went through a number of popularity cycles. The description that came with it (or the subject line) would be something along the lines of "If you look up the definition of the word 'jerk,' this is the picture you'll find." Although actually, I've used the word 'jerk' in place of other, less kind, words that most often fell in the same position.

Glenn Beck Needs a Mental Evaluation

Seriously. This guy has delusions.

"A Glenn Beck Christmas" with a ragged little sweater instead of a pathetic little Christmas Tree? I dunno; I'll never watch it.

Delurk Thyself, Spirit in the Shadows!

I'm seeing in various blogs that this weekend all you lurkers- people who visit, but never leave comments- are supposed to leave comments. Hear that? My comment rate is about 1%; for each one hundred visitors (yes, that is tallied, data-logged, and entered into your semi-permanent record), only one leaves a comment. I'm not going to get all fussy about it, but a few more would tickle me... and who knows... I might comment back!

Wouldn't that be special?


Go-Go's: We Got the Beat.

I noticed that this video was actually recorded in 1977, which brings up a point I've been meaning to make: Saturd80's is about music I was listening to in the 80's, not necessarily recorded during that decade. Elvis Costello: Watching the Detectives.

One of the great sing-along songs of all time. Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mombazo: Diamonds On the Souls of Her Shoes.

More Protest Bombing

From The FBomb, Via BuzzFeed. If you visit that first link, you can read the story behind the photo, too!
Although it may have started as a single, humorous defense on Chris Pesto’s part, his one action turned into a protest for a more loving and accepting community. Administration officials heard the call of their students and stated that the Deferios were no longer welcome on Syracuse’s campus.
Yay, Protest Bombing!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Comment Moderation

I'd rather not. But spammers have been very persistent over the last week or so, and the number of spam comments has been steadily increasing; today I've had to delete 8. I generally get them within minutes after they've been posted, but I'd rather not have to deal with them at all. I have turned on comment moderation for posts older than two weeks, and put the word verification back up. I'm hoping I can remove these measures before too long, but in the meantime, if you are so desperate to sell Viagra, pictures of nude Russian teens, penile enhancements, or malignant computer viruses, start your own blog. It's easy and it's free. No one will visit or read it, but that's your problem, not mine. Likewise, this blog is mine, not yours. I will not allow it to be used to advertise things that I don't (freely and without compensation) support.

Dancing in Line

So I heard it through the grapevine, Blue Gal has initiated a contest challenge and exhibition to perform Photoshoppery magic on Katie Couric's freaky frolic photos. Not being able to drop hundreds of dollars on a piece of software, I have to make do with Paint.nettery, but I'm happy with the results. The picture will get about 50% bigger if you click on it.

Other participants I've seen thus far include:
Driftglass (front here)
Darkblack (front here)
Tengrain (front here)
Dr. Zaius (front here)
Blue Gal (front here)
Fried Green Al Quaidas (front here)
DCap, guest-posting at MPS (see Tengrain, above). DCap HQ is here.
Thanks to Blue Gal for letting me crash this party! And just to clarify, the first link in each line will take you to the particular post that holds the results of Ms. Couric's dance moves; the second will take you to the top, most recent posts, of the blog in question.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


NOS was the shorthand we used to refer to "Nature of Science" in science education discussions. (The link will take you to posts that I have labeled with that phrase.) I have discussed small aspects of the idea in various posts; I'm not an expert on the topic, but I have a better background than most non-experts. And it's a subject that I do wish was more familiar to most people. I particularly wish that more scientists understood the philosophical underpinnings of their work, and could discuss the basis, assumptions, and cultural conventions of science with their students.

Because science is just one of many ways of knowing. It's no "better" or "worse" than any other until you make a decision about what you want to know and why. If you want to know how a creator intends for you to lead your life, or achieve eternal salvation, religion is the approach to knowing that will be most productive to those ends. If you want to show what is logically and demonstrably true in a universe predicated on a limited number of basic relationships and properties, you want to talk to or become a mathematician. If you want to predict and understand the nature of the physical world in which we find ourselves, and you're OK with the idea that you can't really, truly claim to absolutely know anything for a fact, you want to learn science.

My own position is that I wouldn't want to live in a world that didn't have a variety of ways of knowing. The above, along with others, all address different problems, important problems. As I've mentioned before, my half-joking goal in life is to understand everything. Science can't address many kinds of problems. Why is it wrong to harm others? What happens after death? My personal answer to those questions are "It just is," and "Nothing." Which is basically a pair of statements of faith, though not necessarily of religion. I do not believe that moral and ethical decisions and choices can only come from religion.

Long story short, I just came across a very interesting discussion at The Guardian on the intersection of science and Islam. The author does a great job of laying out NOS, as well as premises of different factions of Islam, showing how some of those factions are bound to be hostile to science, and others more likely to be accepting. He also points out the chilling parallels between the more fundamentalist aspects of both Islam and Christianity. If you would like to better understand science and religion as different ways of knowing, I can't recommend this piece enough. The broader discussion which at this point has only one additional linked article, is here.


I have never before had as many as 200 visitors in a day. Right now my count is 315, and that's up from 309 just a couple of minutes ago. Of the last 100 visitors, 86 have come in to an archive of posts from June.

And it's not even noon yet.

This appears to be the picture that's attracting all the attention, but I'm not sure...
(From Pundit Kitchen)

So why is it, six months after I posted it, and when the original is in a really popular spot, that everyone is suddenly breaking down the doors of this little blog? And why has no one left any comment, positive or negative, regarding this?

I don't really understand the internet.

Bright Lights Overhead

The International Space Station will be visible from somewhere near my favorite coffee shop over the next couple of days- twice this evening (about an hour and a half apart, the ISS's orbital period) and again tomorrow. We've actually been having some nice clear weather, so the chances seem good that if you go look, you'll be able to see it. The above is the result for Zip Code 97330. If you don't have the good fortune to live in that area, you can enter your own Zip or Canadian postal code on this page, which also has a link to a global satellite search.

I just checked our local weather... we're supposed to get increasing clouds overnight, then a chance of rain increasing through Thursday, followed by a 90% chance of rain Thursday night. So if you want to see, your best chance will be this evening.

Followup: Oops, forgot the whole reason I was posting this... according to the alert SpaceWeather sent me,
DOUBLE FLYBY ALERT: Space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) this morning at 4:53 am EST. Their separation sets the stage for double flybys of many towns and cities on Wednesday evening, Nov. 25th, when Atlantis and the ISS will soar through the night sky side by side--a fantastic sight. Atlantis is not scheduled to land until Friday morning, Nov. 27th, so the double apparitions will continue on Thursday, Nov. 26th, Thanksgiving in the United States.
So if conditions are good where you live, you should be able to see both the ISS AND Atlantis, flying over head side-by-side!

The Office Files

I might turn on the tube for this one. Nah... it'll never happen. (Via The Daily What)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


From one of my "Sunday Funnies" editions, last June.I'm outta here.

Nose Phones

You just know this kid turned around and stuck them back in his ears...

Eww. I guess they're not that expensive. It would be easy to have a nose-dedicated pair. Or an ear dedicated pair. Oh dear... it just occurred to me that they were in his ears before they were in his nose. Oh, yuck. Nose wax... ear boogers... ewwwwww!

Darwin Squirrel

Continuing with the commemoration of The Origin of Species, we see below some of the counter-intuitive results that can arise from the idea of natural selection: how else can we explain a parent risking her life for a child? As humans, we tend to say "love." We also tend to say that all those primitive other things that happen to live on our planet don't experience such noble refined emotions. Nevertheless, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that an organism that puts a great deal of time and effort (resources) into reproducing would be protective of her offspring.
In the picture above, a bebe squirrel (awwww....) has just fallen off a tree, and an evil puppeh (Oh Noes!) has pounced. And below we see the inevitable outcome in our moral tale of cute versus evil. (You can click over to The Mail Online to read the full story and see the intervening pictures between the scary beginning and happy ending)
Of course, it isn't inevitable, and it's not a moral tale. It's life. And it makes an awful lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective. Not much sense at all from a moral perspective. Which would you prefer, from your own perspective: a live squirrel, or a starving dog?

Personally, I'd rather not have to choose. But life doesn't have the choice of not choosing.

To pull another quote from this wise man,
I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.
Life can be cruel, but after all, it's life. What more do you want?

Well, Of Course the Insect Was Named For Them

This has flown by in a couple of the aggregator sites since yesterday. After seeing it scroll through my screen a number of times. I finally decided to watch it. I'm awfully glad I did, if for nothing other than a reconstruction of one of their hits... and a lot of other stuff too, actually. Did you know they also invented Micky Mouse? Neither did I!

Happy Birthday, "Species!"

(From Wikipedia; full-size here)

Today is the 150th anniversary of the first publication of Charles Darwin's masterpiece, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." According to Wikipedia, the title was shortened to "The Origin of Species" in the sixth edition. I hadn't realized that, and had been under the impression that the formal title remained the longer version. Nevertheless, this is probably the seminal work of science ever written. I know Newton worshipers will disagree, and that's fine. But Darwin's approach to gathering broad evidence regarding a seemingly intractable problem- How can we explain the diversity of living things without supernatural intervention?- formulating a hypothesis, then rigorously testing it and gathering more data, and finally offering a thoroughly logical exposition and defense of his theory, more closely models most of modern science than does trying to fit phenomena to mathematical models. This is not to say that scientists don't try to accomplish the latter, nor that the latter is unimportant or trivial. It is merely to say that a "Darwinian approach," so to speak, is more typical than a "Newtonian approach." We try to describe (and circumscribe) a problem, and come up with a logical explanation without reference to actions and processes beyond our ken.

This is the fundamental basis of science: to explain the world around us in terms we are capable of understanding. And with all due respect to the vociferous "New Atheists," that does not necessarily mean we "know" everything, or anything, for that matter. Nor does it "prove" the nonexsistence of a deity. It simply means that we are capable of achieving internally consistent explanations that are not, importantly, inconsistent with other, external, observations and explanations.

Why is this important? Because science, more than any other broad discipline, has shown itself capable of making accurate, (mostly) dependable predictions. Look around where you're sitting and reading this post right now. Can you pick out a single thing in your vicinity that is not where it is, or even exists, because of human predictions? Go ahead, look around... I predict these words will still be here when you look back. I can't spot anything, with perhaps the exception of the fallen leaves across the street, though the trees from which they fell were clearly chosen and planted in the spots where they grow. And most grade schoolers could predict the existence of fallen leaves at this time of year as a result of planting those trees.

Science can range from the astonishingly simple, as the previous example, to the astonishingly elegant (elegance = simple but powerful) as with Darwin's theory, to the astonishingly complex, as with the Large Hadron Collider. (first collisions yesterday!) One of the things that makes me very uneasy about our culture is the way people can separate concepts and ideas that are scientific in nature, like "leaves will fall out of the trees in the autumn," from ideas that are a little more complicated (but not much), and call one "common sense," and the other "science."

Darwin's ideas and argument can be boiled down to the following bullets:
  1. Organisms tend to produce more offspring than can possibly survive. A single parent or pair of parents will tend to produce more than one or two offspring, respectively. Thus over generations, the population of that organism would be expected to increase without limit. This concept is referred to as "superfecundity," which, in English, means "over-reproduction"
  2. Resources are materials or environmental aspects needed for survival, which are, at least in principle, potentially limited. Since, in principal, nothing is infinite, anything required for survival or reproduction- living space, water, appropriate food, shelter, mates, anything- is potentially limited.
  3. Combining points 1 and 2, successive generations of offspring will be set in competition with each other, as their numbers increase, with proportionally more and more limited resources. Some won't survive to reproduce.
  4. Offspring tend to resemble their parents...
  5. ...but with variations. Offspring (at least of sexually reproducing organisms) are not carbon copies of their parents.
  6. Offspring with variations that benefit them in their competition for survival in the environment where and when they live are more likely to survive and reproduce. Offspring with variations that interfere with their ability to survive and reproduce in their environment are less likely to survive and reproduce.
  7. Over many generations, offspring with beneficial variations will more often reproduce offspring with those variations, and those characteristics will become dominant in the species; detrimental variations will, again, over generations, be eliminated.
I'm not sure whether to put the conclusion as a final bullet, but it should be obvious: this process is continuous, and given the amount of time Darwin believed to be available (incidentally, much less than we currently believe to have been available), would lead to the creation of progeny, many generations later, that could be very different from their forebears. So different that would be considered different species; hence "the origin of species."

Points 1, 2, 4 and 5 are simple observations: facts. Points 3, 6 and 7 are, to my mind, unavoidable logical consequences of the other four. Like so many ideas, it seems profoundly obvious in retrospect. But Darwin's ability to synthesize these observations and implications in the context of the mid 1800's is one that we should all respect and attempt to emulate: to find the simple explanation and back it up with so much evidence and data that few who are actually paying attention, or who don't simply dislike the idea and want to be contrary, can argue.

I have read the Origin of Species; my only regret is that I didn't until graduate school. I'm not sure I would have been able to get through the language in high school, but I should have read it as an undergraduate. I wouldn't argue that it should be required for science undergrads, but I don't think any of my profs even recommended it, or assigned passages for reading. And that's a shame. Not only was Darwin a gifted, brilliant scientist, he could write with an eloquence that few can match. For example, this is the final sentence of the first edition of The Origin of Species:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

"There is grandeur in this view of life..."

No shit, man, no shit. Words fail me.

But not Darwin.

That's Science!

The point is to figure out what is, not prove that it is what you want it to be. Sometimes we're not necessarily going to like the answers we find.
Via Julia Segal's Tumblr, Skull Swap.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You Learn Something New Every Day

I found this interesting. Just as I'm frequently amazed by some of the discoveries in ethnobotany, I'm regularly surprised that some things, very simple things, haven't been discovered accidentally. This article notes some research that shows vinegar can control the glycemic response (the rise of bood sugar after eating a meal) in diabetics.
Nothing replaces increased physical activity and portion control, said Sue McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the diabetes association. But people with diabetes might find it worth a try, she said, to consume two similar meals — one with vinegar, and another without — and compare their effect on blood sugar.

THE BOTTOM LINE Studies suggest that adding vinegar to a meal may reduce its impact on blood sugar.
The glycemic response among one group of subjects was reduced by 30%- which seems to me a surprisingly large effect. Since in my, admittedly non-academic, reading about diabetes, a commonly mentioned culprit is widely (and wildly) varying blood sugar levels (guilty: I still fight the feast-and-fast impulse), wider knowledge of this fact might actually offer some degree of preventative help. Not sayin' it does, just saying it seems logical that it might.

Anyone for vinegar Kool-Aid?

Fox News Will Go Out of Business

From Talking Points Memo, via Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors:
After a rash of mistakes and apologies over the past weeks, Fox News has sent a memo to employees announcing a new "zero tolerance" policy for on-screen errors.

FishBowlDC obtained the memo, sent last Friday, which warns mistakes could lead to written warnings, suspensions and termination.

"Please know that jobs are on the line here. I can not stress that enough," the memo reads.

Fox has had three much-noticed errors in the past few weeks. First, Sean Hannity used misleading footage to beef up attendance numbers at a Capitol Hill tea party rally -- an incident that caught the attention of the Daily Show's Jon Stewart, forcing Hannity to apologize on air.

Then, last week, one of the midday news shows aired footage of an old Sarah Palin campaign rally to show the "crowds" at her current book tour. An anchor apologized a day later, and Fox blamed a "production error."

Finally, in another segment about Palin's book, the network showed the cover of a satire book called "Going Rouge" instead of her actual memoir, "Going Rogue."
Oh, man, this is going to be fun to watch. As Tengrain put it, "I suppose they could show Glenn Beck blowing bubbles for eight hours." Is "Bubbles" Rupert Murdoch's nickname?

Followup: Steve Benen at Washington Monthly with a somewhat more sober take.

My Worst Nightmare

A forty-six year old man has been presumed in a vegetative state since 1983.


He was paralyzed, but conscious.

For 23 years.

I cannot imagine the horror of that existence.
"I screamed, but there was nothing to hear," he said, via his keyboard.

Houben then suffered years of being effectively trapped in his own body as care personnel and doctors at the hospital in Zolder tried to communicate with him, but eventually gave up hope that he would ever come round.
As you can tell from that quote, the situation was discovered and rectified. But still... 23 years! What does one do, trapped in your own mind, for 23 years?

I can't imagine.

Followup, Tues. November 24: This may be a hoax. Pharyngula has a link to some very suspicious video. But nothing is proven one way or the other; the comments are very much worth reading.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Funnies

My weekly round-up of stuff that made my belly jiggle. Starts here...
Luke Surl: A Fridge Too Far.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Married to the Sea, Via BuzzFeed
Amazing Super Powers
political pictures for your blog
see more Political Pictures
funny pictures of cats with captions
Poor Yogi. See more Lolcats and funny pictures
As a matter of fact, I have. Skull Swap.
Halloween police report, via The Daily What.
Bizarro Blog. Dan Piraro also has a very funny essay on why the Pilgrims should have shot Santa when they had the chance, here.
Regretsy. As usual, it was Helen Killer's comments that really cracked me up:
Okay, what happened here? It looks like her tits caught fire and she tried to put it out with her purse.

haley joel osment and bruce willis
see more Lol Celebs
Ugliest Tattoos... and what the heck is going on with is arm?
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
I Hate My Parents
My First Dictionary
From all over the place, but seen first at That Will Buff Out, appropriately. If you love this, read some of the customer reviews, or look at some of the customer-submitted photos. As an example of the former,
This has been a total lifesaver. It allows me to prop my sheet music against the wheel, allowing me to play the guitar with both hands while driving.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Engrish Funny
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Carbon monoxide would definitely make someone stop hiccuping. And not just temporarily. Criggo
Savage Chickens
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Via TYWKIWDBI, from Cyanide and Happiness, but I'm not sure where in the archive.
Yeah, you can kiss my big, feathery ass! Blackadder
Skull Swap
lady gaga
see more Lol Celebs
Skull Swap
Jen, at Cake Wrecks, in a post on crypto-cakes, as in "WTF is that supposed to be:"
"Cakes" like this (and I say "cakes" because, as you all know, cupcake cakes are NOT real cakes) can help us brush up on our deductive reasoning skills. Observe:

1. There is a number on the shape, and the cake board reads "Win! Win!"
2. Numbers and winning are often associated with sports.
3. Therefore, the "cake" is a stretched out, radioactive uterus.

Sleep eating, from My First Fail... my reaction to this was hilarity, but Iris' reaction was "Awwww, cewwwwt!"
Oddly Specific is this weeks hilarious new funny find. Like tranya, I hope you savor it as much as I.
Oddly Specific
Oddly Specific
Engrish Funny
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Criggo. Funny headline, but if you squint hard enough to read the article, it's even more macabre and funnier.
This view of sauropods, as water-dwellers, has been pretty thoroughly dismissed. Still, like. Ugliest Tattoos.
Jim Benton via The Daily What
One with sprinkles, please. Blackadder.
"Soon Cleese’s transformation will be complete and the Spice will flow again." Blackadder.
Rental agreement for the end of the world... and I feel fine. Emails From Crazy People.
Criggo... mmmm... bacon...
I hate it when that happens- Blackadder. This reminds me of a very funny video clip I posted in summer of '08. They've put a 15-second commercial in front of a 2o-second clip, but if "kid jumping in puddles" doesn't ring a bell, you'll get a worthwhile laugh out of it.
This is Why Not to Moon- Blackadder