Wednesday, December 30, 2009

GO GREEN for Iran!

This blog has officially gone green for Iran.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

QualiaSoup on Dualism

I'll have more to say about this later, but in the meantime, enjoy this video:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Google honors Cookie Monster!



As many of you may already know, Google often has a themed homepage. Yesterday was Big Bird, today is Cookie Monster. Might there be some Sesame Street anniversary going on? Yes. The show will be 40 years old on the 10th of this month. Expect to see a different character for the next five days (I'm guessing Kermit will be the theme on the 10th itself). However, today's character, Cookie Monster, actually has a further Google connection.

Behold The Google Song--recorded 16 years before the corporation of Google even existed. Enjoy!



(via Bleuz00m)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Robotic seeds take flight!

First there was the robotic dog. Let's not forget the swimming robotic snake. Or my personal favorite: the flying robot penguin. But now we have a new potential overlord, modeled after this.



That's right: a maple seed! "But Javier," you ask, "maple seeds are boring compared to dogs, snakes, and penguins. Why are you so excited about RoboSeed?"

Ah! Just take a look at these Samara-esque monocopters in action.



UPDATE: Speaking of funky robots, behold the skiing robot! It just needs a machine gun and it can chase James Bond down the slopes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Be aware of cyclists!

This video refers to specific laws in Chicago. These all sound like reasonable laws and I assume that most cities have similar laws to some or most of these laws.

I think it being illegal for cars to turn right if front of a cyclist is so important that it should be "federal".

The more things change ...

... the more they remain the same!

Then:

And now:




(click images to embiggenate)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Barney Frank PWNZ Teabagger!

I've already seen this video on at least six different blogs, but I click to watch it every single time. These people need to be called out for what they are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How NOT to take the hill.

Suppose you had joined a fighting regiment because the commander had promised to capture a particular, strategic hill. You were all ready to charge in hell or high water and conquer the knoll! But on the day of the attack, that same commander gathered all his troops together and said to them "While it would be ideal to take the hill, even if we must retreat and settle for holding the side of the hill, the important thing is that we're on the hill." Your mind fills with dreadful images of the enemy lobbing artillery at you from the summit as you hold your victory celebration down below. How does this make you feel?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on the Sestak Town Hall meeting

Continuing my earlier post, last night I went to a health care town hall meeting with Joe Sestak. The meeting was held at the Broad Street Ministry, a Center City church that feeds and shelters many of the city's homeless persons. I arrived about an hour and a half before the doors opened, and waited in line with a few hundred others. All the local news outfits were there; perhaps they were hoping to see some melee. There really wasn't any. There were a couple of Lyndon Larouche supporters there handing out their Obama/Hitler pamphlets (when they came by me, I just held the Health Care Reform NOW poster that I had volunteered to hold, up in their faces), but most of the discourse was civil.

The crowd was primarily pro-Reform. Here's a snippet to give you an idea of what the audience was like. (Apologies for the shaky footage--I did not bring my tripod--and the bad lighting.)



For the record, the second part of his answer was mandates. I will upload all the video footage I have later today or tomorrow. I shot the first ninety minutes of the meeting as that's all the tape I brought. The meeting went on much longer even after I left. The congressman said that he would stay until he answered all questions. I left after a little more than three hours of the meeting when only about a third of the original crowd remained. I did not ask a question myself as it was getting late, the church had no air conditioning (though they did offer free water), and most of the good questions had been asked (although in retrospect, I wish I had stood up and asked about how the deal with the pharmaceutical companies would affect the bill.

Joe Sestak is on the committee which is drafting H.R.3200, one of the health bills going through the House of Representatives. He brought a copy of the latest version of the bill with him and discussed the amendments he had added that were not yet online. (Despite some claims to the contrary) Sestak appears to have read and understood the entire bill. He was knowledgeable about details of both the bill and our current health care system, and much like a (gasp!) scientist, he only gave unequivocal answers to issues he could back up with solid studies and statistics. Over all, I was impressed with the presentation.

As I mentioned earlier, the crowd was mostly pro-Reform. Several left leaning groups including SEIU and Move On alerted their members to the event. There were no "teabaggers" bussed in to disrupt the event. There was a minority presence of objectors, but these were mostly invited there by the congressman himself. Sestak sent personal invitations to 123 constituents who had previously contacted him to express their dissatisfaction with the proposed bill. For the most part, they seemed to be familiar with the issue at hand (unlike some protesters we've seen on the news, they appeared to understand what it is that they are against) although their questions were spiced up with right wing talking points and disinformation. And naturally, Congressman Sestak was familiar with their objections and even knew a few of them by name.

The closest we had to the kind of disruptions I've been seeing on the news was this fellow who got frustrated when he wasn't called on quickly enough.



I have a couple things to say about this. First, while I commend him on all his volunteer service, that service does not disqualify him from being a right wing extremist. At best, it means that he doesn't perfectly fit the stereotype of a right wing extremist, but I would imagine that very few extremists (or members of any stereotyped group, really) do. My guess is that he probably is, but I could be mistaken, plus that's a rather subjective judgment anyway.

Second, his concern seems somewhat legitimate, albeit misguided (in my opinion). Clearly he's scared of any change. He wants to keep his current coverage, but is afraid that his employer will drop all plans except for the public option forcing him into an inferior, socialized system. My question for him is what's stopping his employer from dropping his plan for a less desirable private plan right now? That happens all the time. I know. I've seen it happen! Of course your employer will tell you how the new coverage plan is an "upgrade", but when you look at the fine print, the deductibles are larger and the coverage is less extensive. And if you're being treated for something under the old plan, that might just become a pre-existing condition under the new one. It sucks to be you!

The best critical question of the night came from a lady who asked about the health care advisory board (she asked two questions, but her second question was based on incorrect information about the bill). The health care advisory board decides what is covered under the public plan and what is the minimum required coverage for all insurance providers. Her objection was that all the members of the board are either directly or indirectly appointed by the POTUS. I'm guessing that her biggest fear is that she doesn't trust Obama, but as I listened to her ask the question, I imagined what it would be like to have George W. Bush or Dick Cheney select the board members. She is absolutely right that this is too much power in the hands of one person. It is most certainly a bad provision and should be opposed by everyone of all political stripes.

I will post the entire 90 minutes of footage I took on this blog once it has been fully compressed and uploaded. Keep your eye out for it.

UPDATE:
Here's the full 90 minute video that I shot.

Joe Sestak Town Hall Meeting from The Science Pundit on Vimeo.

From last night's Town Hall Meeting



More to follow later ...
Update: here

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

In keeping with my theme of British actors doing fake, funny, French accents ...

Friday, July 10, 2009

The French are the worst tourists

According to a new study commissioned by Expedia.com has found the French to be the worst tourists in the world.

French holidaymakers and business travellers were the least generous or ready to tip, and ranked next-to-last for their overall behaviour and politeness.

Pushy French travellers made amends on elegance -- classed third -- as well as for their discretion and cleanliness.

But the French were the least ready to try a new language, unlike US tourists who were most likely to swallow their pride and order a pizza, baguette or a paella in the local lingo.


This of course comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with French castles on the English countryside.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian uprising

The situation in Iran is getting tenser and tenser. I don't see the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad marionette act surviving much longer. If there was any doubt left that the election was rigged, it was removed yesterday when Iran admitted that in at least 50 cities there were more votes than voters. Of course they're trying to spin it, but as Nate Silver points out, the only explanations that add up are those of fraud.

This leaves only two possibilities: that there was widespread ballot-stuffing or that the results in some or all areas don't reflect any physical count of the ballots but were fabricated whole hog on a spreadsheet.


Between the obviously rigged election and the creation of a martyr for the opposition, the Iranian people have had enough. Mousavi is encouraging his suporters to stand up to the regime, and they are. The Basij militia are acting like thugs and vandals--breaking windows, destroying property, and beating helpless grandmothers (acording to some reports). All this is only inflaming the ire of a people who are increasingly seeing the current Iranian leadership as illegitimate. It's only a matter of time before key elements in the government and/or petroleum industry side with the protesters and refuse to continue supporting the cabal. That will be the death knell of the dictatorship.

There are scores of videos pouring out of Iran as I write this. I've watched many of them, but the one I have embedded below in some senses is the most amazing. I couldn't help but cheer (out loud) on the protesters as I watched it. Can you watch this and not cheer them on too?





note: A great site for updates is Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet Ida!

ResearchBlogging.orgMeet Ida! a.k.a. Darwinius masillae. Ida is a 47 million year old fossil primate that was discovered in the Eocene fossil beds in Messel Germany. Ida was 24 cm. (~10 in.) from head to tail, meaning that--by some estimates--she probably weighed a little over a pound. In the picture below you can see the whole skeleton. It is fairly rare to find complete Eocene mammal skeletons--particularly primates. You can read online research paper about Ida here.

And Ida is just wonderful! On the downside, her skull was crushed, but on the upside, you can actually see where her fur was! (click on picture to embiggenize) Kewl!!!



You might have noticed that Ida kind of looks like a lemur. But there are morphological traits there that put her into the Cercamoniinae, from which modern anthropoids (monkeys and apes) evolved. In other words, we have ourselves a complete transitional primate fossil. This is super exciting!

Another thing we know abot Ida is that she was a juvenile. How do we know that, you ask? Check out her teeth!



You can clearly see that she has a mix of fully developed and developing teeth. For example, the M1 molars above are developed and in place but the M2 molars are still moving and the M3 molars probably haven't broken through the gums yet. We can compare this pattern to the dental development of similarly sized modern primates to estimate that Ida was about 80% of the way to full maturity when she died. And as I said before, there's much more in the paper.

Yay for science!

Franzen, J., Gingerich, P., Habersetzer, J., Hurum, J., von Koenigswald, W., & Smith, B. (2009). Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology PLoS ONE, 4 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005723

Friday, May 01, 2009

First Of May in ASL

Hurray, hurray! The first of May.
Outdoor sex begins today.

Once again to celebrate May Day, I will post a video interpretation of Jonathan Coulton's First Of May. This time, it's a video of the song being signed in ASL. WOW!!

Check it out below (lyrics NSFW)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Arlen Specter switches parties!

It seems that my State now has not one, but two Democratic Senators.

While it may seem a bit surprising at first, it is not out of character for him. He has never been part of the Republican base--his voice has long been one of the voices of moderation in the party. Also, it appears that the polling for the upcomming primary was unfavorable to him. Five years ago he had a very tough fight against a an extreme conservative and a close general election too. Probably the only reason he was able to prevail in the general election was because he is so popular with many Democrats and almost al Independents here in PA. It was certainly a pragmatic move, and Specter is, above all else, a pragmatic politician.

But it also makes sense philosophically.

“I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans,” Mr. Specter said, acknowledging that his decision was certain to disappoint colleagues and supporters.


Welcome to the ship that isn't sinking, Arlen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rachel Maddow on the teabaggers

Just in case you lead a sheltered life and don't know what teabagging is, click here.

Now sit back and try not to laugh too hard. :-D

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sachs says that Geithner plan is just a giveaway.

Jeffrey Sachs today wrote an opinion piece which thoroughly trashed the Geithner plan. Despite its stated intentions, the Geithner plan, according to Sachs, will allow institutions to unload all of their worthless (market price = $0) toxic assets at full price (full price = "more fictitious than Harry Potter") courtesy of the US taxpayer. In other words, the "rescue plan" amounts to nothing more than a direct transfer of funds from the American taxpayer to the banks that caused the mess we're in. Dr. Sachs demonstrates this using a hypothetical example involving Citibank and $1M in worthless toxic--er, legacy--assets.

Here's how. Consider a toxic asset held by Citibank with a face value of $1 million, but with zero probability of any payout and therefore with a zero market value. An outside bidder would not pay anything for such an asset. All of the previous articles consider the case of true outside bidders.

Suppose, however, that Citibank itself sets up a Citibank Public-Private Investment Fund (CPPIF) under the Geithner-Summers plan. The CPPIF will bid the full face value of $1 million for the worthless asset, because it can borrow $850K from the FDIC, and get $75K from the Treasury, to make the purchase! Citibank will only have to put in $75K of the total.

Citibank thereby receives $1 million for the worthless asset, while the CPPIF ends up with an utterly worthless asset against $850K in debt to the FDIC. The CPPIF therefore quietly declares bankruptcy, while Citibank walks away with a cool $1 million. Citibank's net profit on the transaction is $925K (remember that the bank invested $75K in the CPPIF) and the taxpayers lose $925K. Since the total of toxic assets in the banking system exceeds $1 trillion, and perhaps reaches $2-3 trillion, the amount of potential rip-off in the Geithner-Summers plan is unconscionably large.


I'm not sure whether I'm more consumed with anger or despair over this. If Sachs is right about this, that plan cannot be allowed to go forward. And it's not like there isn't a better (or at least radically different) plan out there. Sachs brings that up too in his piece.

Obama: Please start listening to Sachs, Krugman, Stiglitz, etal!

(via Paul Krugman)

Circus of the Spineless 37 is now up!



Go check it out at GrrlScientist! There are some really great posts over there (and there's even one from your's truly). There's fantastic photo essays, cool videos, and informative educational pieces. Go there now!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Derek the Abstinence Clown

I really wish that this was an April Fools joke. Well, it's a joke alright, but an unintentional one. You have to see to believe.


(via, and)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today's APOD: the Πortara

To celebrate the vernal equinox, APOD has a picture of the Portara--the entrance of the ancient Temple of Apollo on the island of Naxos--take at sunset during last June's summer solstice. However, when I look at the picture, I see an image which would have been very appropriate only four days ago(Pi Day). That's right, I see the silhuette of a Capital letter pi against a setting circle. I'm such a geek!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Volcano!

Amateur exorcist and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal thinks that volcano monitoring is a waste of money. I wonder if he's ever seen an underwater volcano eruption up close?



That was pretty amazing! Now just for fun, here's some Jimmy Buffet.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Video Sunday

Yesterday was Pi Day (3/14). To celebtrate, I ate some slices of pizza pie. Also, here is an explanation of how to figure out the area of a circle much as the ancient Greeks did. You'll notice that the principle is the same that's used in Calculus to measure the area under a curve. In fact, the Greeks used the same general method to calculate all sorts of areas and volumes. Of course it would be about a couple millenia before the invention of the Calculus where we could calculate the area under any defined curve.



Yesterday was also Albert Einstein's birthday. Here's an audio recording of the man himself explaining the significance of his most famous equation.



And finally, just for fun, here's what you get when you cross Gilbert & Sullivan with Ray Kurzweil. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chelicerata Morphing Evolution


Chelicerata is the class of arthropods whose members are characterized by appendages (chelicerae) that appear before the mouth. The class includes species of spiders, ticks, mites, scorpions, horseshoe crabs, as well as others, including the extinct sea scorpions (pictured left). The common ancestor lived back in the Cambrian period.

Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History has put together a video that looks at the chelicerata evolutionary tree from a different perspective. They've used morphing technology to show the transformation of the ancestral Cambrian progenitor into each of the major sub-groups. Of course it's not perfect. For one thing, the ancestor must be an approximation based on the fossils of the time. Also, photographic morph isn't the most accurate depiction of how evolution works--especially when transitional fossils are sparse. Different body parts change at different rates and often go through stages that don't fit into the progressio of pictures in the morph.

Having said that, it's a very cool video. Check it out!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day 2009!

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential people in history. His Ideas are the cornerstone of modern biology. In fact, before Darwin, biology didn't really exist; or as Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". His ideas about common descent and natural selection have even leaked into other branches of study such as linguistics and sociology. But his ideas didn't come from a vacuum; they weren't based on observation alone. He borrowed from thinkers in other fields.

Just how did he get there? For starters, Darwin began his studies with the intent of becoming a doctor. He found that he didn't have the stomach for surgery, so he switched to theology. A country vicar was the future that young Darwin saw for himself even up until he set sail on the Beagle. But even so, it was the study of nature that captivated him. As Janet Browne recounts, he was especially interested in a man whose ideas Darwin would eventually make obsolete.

In particular Darwin engaged with the theological views of Archdeacon William Paley, initially as part of his syllabus and then as independent reading. Darwin was expected to be able to answer questions in the final examinations on Paley's Evidences of Christianity and Moral Philosophy. After he graduated, he read the last of Paley's trilogy, Natural Theology (1802), with its argument that the adaptation of living beings to their surroundings was so perfect that it proved the existence of God. How could such a perfect design have come about, stated Paley, except from the careful hands of a designer? If a watch were accidentally found on a path, we would be entirely justified in thinking that it had been constructed by a skilled craftsman according to some design or plan. Such intricate mechanisms do not suddenly appear out of nothing, like magic. They are made by a maker. So, Paley argued, the world about us must be considered in the same way as the watch.


Darwin was also influenced by Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population which stated that populations grow exponentially until they no longer have the resources to maintain themselves, then they are subject to competition, poverty, and decline. Another great influence was Lyell's Principles of Geology which stated that land forms were not always as they as today, but rather formed slowly through natural processes (such as erosion, etc.). Ironically, Lyell specifically made an exception for living things which--of course--were not subject to change in the same way.


Charles Darwin circa 1860--about the time he published Origin of Species

Now contrary to popular opinion, Darwin didn't come up with his theory while observing all the different forms on the Galapagos. While he did note the variation from island to island with interest, it wasn't until he got back home and started to study his logs and samples and then really think about them deeply that his theory began to form. And once it formed, he took his time to get it right. Twenty years passed between his first documented mention of the idea and the publishing of Origin. The reasons for the delay are often debated among scholars, but what is for sure is that when he did publish, every i was dotted and every t was crossed. "He examined the minutiae of nature" notes biologist and writer Olivia Judson in today's New York Times "but worked on grand themes."

Could plants from the mainland colonize a newly formed island? If so, they would need a way to get there. Could they survive in the ocean? To find out, he immersed seeds in salt water for weeks, then planted them to see how many could sprout. He reported, for example, that “an asparagus plant with ripe berries floated for 23 days, when dried it floated for 85 days, and the seeds afterwards germinated.” The Atlantic current moved at 33 nautical miles a day; he figured that would take a seed more than 1,300 miles in 42 days. Yes, seeds could travel by sea.


Here are the first couple paragraphs from chapter IV of Origin, where he begins to explain his notion of natural selection.



Be sure to check out the other Darwin Day posts at Blog for Darwin Carnival.


Now let me finish my Darwin Day post with a shout out to my favoritest and adorablest nephew, Rafael Darwin.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Preach It Sister!



(totally stolen from Greg Laden)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Centrism is a pose rather than a philosophy.

The title of this post comes from Paul Krugman today.

Atrios is right, though I’d put it a bit differently: centrism is a pose rather than a philosophy. And to support that pose, the centrists are demanding $100 billion in cuts in the economic stimulus plan — not because they have any coherent argument saying that the plan is $100 billion too big, not because they can identify $100 billion of stuff that should not be done, but in order to be able to say that they forced Obama to move to the center.

Which raises the obvious question: shouldn’t Obama have made a much bigger plan, say $1.3 trillion, his opening gambit? If he had, he could have conceded to the centrists by cutting it to $1.2 trillion, and still have had a plan with a good chance of really controlling this slump. Instead he made preemptive concessions, only to find the centrists demanding another pound of flesh as proof of their centrist power.


This is exactly right. A political centrist's ideal stimulus package isn't objective in the sense before introduction of the bill, there is no $ amount attached to it. The Republicans are certainly objective--they're looking for a stimulus package with $0 spending. The Obama administration's bill is (or should be) objective--the stimulus package should be large enough to prevent a major economic melt down. But the centrist's stimulus package is subjective in the sense that the $ amount that it should be is subject to the president's proposed number--it needs to be somewhat less so that the centrist can claim to be reasonable. But the actual number is undetermined until Obama fires first.

The Obama administration has received an F on their first quiz in Negotiations 101. Let's hope that they're fast learners.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bush the Terrorist (Jabber)!

I've always chuckled whenever right-wingers would rationalize the failures of the Bush XLIII by claiming that he wasn't a "true conservative". I never really bought that; besides, (Nobel Laureate) Paul Krugman completely evicerated that claim quite decisively.

But I have recently been made aware of some evidence which throws my previous beliefs into serious doubt. It turns out that not only wasn't W a true conservative, he may have been a ... GASP!!! The Boston Globe is reporting that Bush bid adieu to his official photographer with a terrorist fist jab! There was no photographic evidence accompanying the article, but I think the truth is quite clear. It all makes perfect sense now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Prepare Cuttlefish Sashimi (Dolphin style)



ResearchBlogging.orgThe proper preparation of giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) for consumption requires at least two steps. The unpalatable ink must be drained from the hapless cephalopod and the cuttlebone must be removed. Of course if you're planning on dining with a fork and knife, then step #2 isn't strictly necessary. But for the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), which swallows its meals intact, cuttlebone removal is obligatory.

This is what researchers Julian Finn, Tom Tregenza, Mark Norman have reported in a paper published today in PLoS ONE. The researchers--in SCUBA gear--positioned themselves in dolphin feeding grounds near Whyalla, Spencer Gulf and caught the feeding behavior with an HD video camera. They observed how the dolphins corralled the cuttlefish out into the open, pinned them to the ground, hammered them to death, shook the ink out of them, scraped them on the bottom to remove the cuttlebone, and finally bon appétite.


(clicking on image takes you to the full Fig. 1 image at PLoS ONE)

Here's how the researchers describe the steps involved:


  1. Prey positioning: Cuttlefish prey were typically hiding amongst dense brown algae. On encountering the cuttlefish, the dolphin flushed the prey away from algal cover into areas of open sand (Fig. 1a).

  2. Prey restraint: The dolphin then adopted a vertical position in the water column and pinned the prey down against the sand substrate.

  3. Pinned thrust kill: A rapid downward vertical thrust was effected by the dolphin using a powerful tail beat (Fig. 1b, 2a), accompanied by a whole body twist that broke the cuttlebone and/or cephalic cartilage (with a loud click audible to divers), instantly killing the cuttlefish.

  4. ‘Snout beating’ of the corpse: The corpse was then lifted into the water column on top of the beak (Fig. 1c, 2b) and repeatedly hit with the snout (up to 6 times), until dense clouds of ink were released (Fig. 1d, 2c). Beating continued until ink release diminished.

  5. Removal of intact cuttlebone: The dead prey was then returned to the sand where it was inverted and the dorsal surface of the cuttlefish body forcibly pushed into and along the sand substrate (Fig. 1e), thus scraping off the thin dorsal skin of the cuttlefish and releasing the cuttlebone, which then floated to the surface.

  6. Ingestion: The prepared cuttlefish was then consumed whole (Fig. 1f, 2d), or when the head and body were separated during beak beating, only the head was consumed (with attached digestive tract organs).



(clicking on image takes you to the full Fig. 2 image at PLoS ONE)

Naturally there are still questions to be answered. Two important ones are (1) Is this practice widespread or just limited to the dolphins observed? and (2) If it's widespread, is it inherited behavior or passed on culturally? The evidence seems to suggest that the practice is indeed widespread.

Repeated above-water observations of clean cuttlebones bobbing to the surface in association with passing pods of dolphins suggest that some or all of this behavioural sequence is not restricted to a single individual dolphin.


Whether the behavior is taught or inherited is still up in the air (or down in the water) and will require more research.

EDIT: This post is my very first Blogging Peer Reviewed Research post (Did you catch the nifty icon?). So as the total n00b that I am, I did things backwards: I wrote and published the post, then checked the guidelines to make sure that it conformed. You can imagine how aghast I was when I read this.

7. The post should contain original work by the post author -- while some quoting of others is acceptable, the majority of the post should be the author's own work.


A quick perusal confirmed that my post was closer to 50/50 than "the majority of the post being my own work." While I had a high degree of confidence that--as a first timer--they would let me slide, the prudent action is to add more of my thoughts.

It has long been known that dolphins can perform intricate tasks. It has been demonstrated that they can solve problems (such as navigating mazes) as well as perform stunts which they have been trained to do. This particular behavior can be broken into six distinct steps, most of which are each themselves intricate. Given the complexity of the behavior as well as what we know about dolphins, I feel pretty safe ruling out instinctual behavior. More research needs to be done of course.

An observation which I believe would support this hypothesis is if we found the behavior widespread among groups of dolphins who intermingle, but lacking in other groups of the same species who aren't in contact with the group who we prepares cuttlefish this way.

This brings up a question #3 for me. Is this behavior passed on by "passive" imitation or by active teaching? This is the question that I would really like an answer too. I've blogged in the past about how I think that the combination teaching and blind imitation is the root of human culture. In other words, despite my skeptic inclinations to "think for myself" and not just do as I'm told, it takes less energy and time to fill our huge cerebrums with knowledge if just soak up what we're taught than if we try to figure everything out ourselves. And that only works efficiently in a culture if we're also actively teaching what we know to others in our group.

But back to the dolphins, I just don't know-and this paper has only intensified my curiosity. I can't imagine that dolphins teach their young the way we (and apparently there's evidence that some other primates, such as japanese macaques, also) do. Anyway, hopefully now I'm within the required guidelines.

Julian Finn, Tom Tregenza, Mark Norman (2009). Preparing the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal: Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins PLoS ONE, 4 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004217

Running on Hope

Here's the diagnostic on your country, Mr. Obama.



(via)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Change has begun!

I'm not sure if this was the first inaugural address to include the word statistics, by I approve!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

R.I.P. x 3

I grew up and currently live in the Delaware Valley, so I am very familiar with Chads Ford. In elementary school, I went on field trips to the Brandywine Battlefield and some of the old DuPont estates. As a cyclist, I think I've bicycled 80% of the roads there (at least it feels that way). And of course, I'm familiar with the artwork of Andrew Wyeth. With the exception of the Helga collection, Wyeth's art has been a part of my life since childhood. I remember, as a child, how it seemed that everybody and their grandmother had a print of Christina's World in their home. Even today, there's something about that painting that speaks out to me, although the meaning has changed.

R.I.P. Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 2009)



One of my favorite detective shows has always been Columbo. The writing and acting was always first class. But the best thing about the series was what separated it from other series in the genre. The shows always began with a murder. You got a hint of what motivated the murder; you got to see the planning and execution of the murder; you got to see how the killer set himself/herself up with the perfect alibi; and you got to see all that before the detective--brilliantly played by Peter Falk--even made his first appearance. This was not your typical whodunnit?--you already knew that. The thrill was in watching how Columbo solved the crime.

One episode of Columbo that will always stick in my mind is By Dawn's Early Light. It starred a young Bruno Kirby (as well as his father, Bruno Kirby Sr.) as a cadet at a military institute. The murderer in this episode was the head of the school who killed one of the board members who was planning on making the academy co-ed. The actor who played the villain was the great Patrick McGoohan (who also starred in and/or directed several other Columbo episodes). This was also the first time I became aware of this actor. He is well known as #6 in The Prisoner, but I will always remember him from Columbo and from his portrayal of the unsympathetic King Edward I (Longshanks) in Braveheart.

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan (1928 - 2009)

I thought perhaps I was the only one who remembered Patrick McGoohan from Columbo, so I was glad to see that Jason Rosenhouse also remembered him from there. Jason also reminded me of the bullfighter episode of Columbo, where the killer was played by Ricardo Montalban. As a kid, I watched Montalban as Mr. Rork on Fantasy Island. However, what I remember him best as today are his roles as Vincent Ludwig in The Naked Gun and Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. His performance in ST2 was phenomenal and included some memorable quotes such as

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

You are in a position to be making no demands.

I stab at thee! I stab at thee! I stab at thee!


R.I.P. Ricardo Montalban (1920 - 2009)

Monday, January 12, 2009

So God created Tornado in his own image



The description of that video said that it resembled Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam". What do you think?

Why I could never hope to win Le Tour d'France

Stella Artois: The Race

(Sorry Papa, there doesn't seem to be an embed option.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Great victory for the ULC!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. I have yet to use my ordination in order to perform any rites--such as weddings (although my colleague and good friend, the Reverend Frank Golddigger, once performed a multi-denominational funeral service for a beloved family pet pug)--but I know that if necessary, I can. That is why I'm delighted that Bucks County Court Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. upheld the First Amendment and ruled in favor of freedom and equality last week.

There was good news yesterday for Jason and Jennifer O'Neill, a Philadelphia couple whose 2005 Bucks County marriage had been thrown into question because they used a minister ordained online. For many other similarly situated couples, too.

Bucks County Court Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. declared the marriage valid, even though the minister - Jason O'Neill's uncle, Robert A. Norman - had been ordained in a matter of minutes by the Universal Life Church after completing a short form online.


Similar rulings have been issued in Montgomery County and Philadelphia County (where I live). There are now three counties in Pennsylvania where I can legally perform rites. There is still an issue with York County though. For those of you not familiar with York County, it's Jesusland Pennsylvania. The Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial over teaching Intelligent Design was in the heart of York County. And it was a York County judge who had invalidated weddings performed by ministers who had received online ordination, because said ministers "did not regularly preach in a church or have an actual congregation." That ruling is often cited by clerks in other Pennsylvania counties as justification for denying marriage certificates to couples. That is exactly what happened to Jason and Jennifer O'Neill.

"Statewide, thousands of couples will be relieved by this decision, but the threat is not completely absent unless they live in Bucks County," Kaplowitz (of Drinker, Biddle & Reath, who represented the O'Neills on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania) said.

In the last 10 years, engaged couples, particularly those from different religions like the O'Neills, have increasingly sought to personalize their weddings by having the ceremonies performed by friends ordained online or by non-denominational individuals whose presence would not offend their families' religious practices.

That trend drew the ire of some county clerks and registers of wills statewide, who called the practice an affront to the institution of marriage and sought to disqualify so-called online officiants.

Among them was Bucks County Clerk of Orphans' Court Barbara G. Reilly, who launched a public-information campaign about the York County ruling. Reilly advised Bucks County couples to reapply for marriage licenses, and 36 couples were remarried as a result.

Reilly said she had not yet studied Fritsch's ruling, but found the news "puzzling."

"If the judge is right, then the law is wrong," Reilly said. "The law is flawed and must be restructured."

"I guess this means a minister from the Church of the Wineskins, for example - that's another one I've dealt with - would have to prove his church meets at least the same criteria as the ULC," Reilly said.


If I may chime in, the "law" (I assume she's referring the York County ruling) is indeed wrong and needs to be not just restructured, but overturned. In fact, let me just state here in public that I would like a minister from the Church of the Wineskins to conduct my wake. Take that, Reilly!

The other thing that really bothered me about this was the clerks who called "the practice an affront to the institution of marriage". Does that language sound familiar? I'm not going to pretend that the York County ruling is the assault to civil liberties that prop h8 is, but it is basically the same people behind it and they're using the same rhetoric. I'm not exactly sure what the law is in Pennsylvania regarding gay marriage, but I believe that it is neither recognized by the State, nor explicitly banned in the constitution. So if you're a gay Philadelphia couple that wants to make a statement, and you're looking for an unconventional and inexperienced minister to marry you, give me a call.

(via)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Degenerate "Tarzan" on the loose in Sydney



This is disturbing.

SYDNEY (Reuters) – An Australian man broke into three adult shops, had sex with blow up dolls named "Jungle Jane" and then dumped his plastic conquests in a nearby alley, local media reported Wednesday.

"It's totally bizarre. It's a real concern that someone like that is out on the street," said one of the owners of the adult sex shops in Cairns in northern Queensland state.

"He has been taking the dolls out the back and blowing them up and using the dolls and leaving them in the alley," the owner, who gave the name of Vogue, told the Cairns Post newspaper.

Police told the Cairns Post that scientific officers had taken DNA samples, fingerprints and pictures of the crime scene.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jon Stewart on the Burris appointment

Blagojevich Creation

Jon Stewart and The Daily Show FTW!