03 October 2006

Scienceblogs SAT Challenge

My entry to Chad Orzel's Blogger SAT challenge can be found here. I got a 4 out of 6. I'm going to post the actual text of my response below, and comment on it tomorrow or the next day.
Ask any writer, director, artist: character trumps plot every time. In dramatic fiction as well as in our understanding of the world around us, we often look more to those who have significant barriers to their goals in order to provide inspiration, to provide catharsis, to provide understanding. Whole theologies are even built on the idea that it is the dynamic struggle against one's inner nature rather than the results of one's labor that is the true mark of character.

But is this really true? It is a trite aphorism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but might it also be said that results matter more than feelings, and that being right/accomplishing good deeds/reaching goals is much more important than the struggle against inner and outer obstacles needed to reach those goals? No amount of struggle against outside factors would have allowed for the cure of polio absent the real, factual, scientific observations of Jonas Salk.

In my opinion, these two perspectives are really looking at two slightly different issues. While the achievement of success in any realm connected to reality (luck notwhitstanding) is in a sense its own measure, its own reward and disconnected from any thoughts or accolades due to struggle, this external success is not necessarily a measure of the difficulty of the task -- while Jonas Salk and his associates are rightly honored for their work on the polio vaccine, we know that in fact the discovery of penicillin relied primarily on a chance observation of mold in a petrie dish. While this speaks of the power of a mind open to suggestive evidence, and suggests the power of education and knowledge, it is not a good example of triumphing over great adversity.

On the other hand, even the simplest actions taken by those with great handicaps, whether mental, emotional, economic, et cetera, are often a measure of great exposure to stresses in difficult circumstances, and any level of achievement at all can often be instructive to the character of the individual and inspirational to the power of all. This is why stories of handicapped individuals achieving simple ends, Horatio Alger, and many other historical and fantastical/fictional accounts have such power over our emotions.

In short, while real achievement is what counts for the world, it is through an understanding of the triumph over adversity that one can truly measure the worth of character. Polio was conquered regardless of the amount of energy expended over it (and that is a very good thing) but to ignore the lesser achievements of those who have greater handicaps is to ignore much of what makes us human. In an often heartless and uncaring universe, to hope for great inspiration through triumph over adversity is often all we have to go on.

22 September 2006

Pop Culture and the PIG

I've apologized so many times for not posting that I'm going to have to start apologizing for writing an apologetic post, so I'm not even going to bother with that today. Instead, I'm just going to write the damned post I wanted to write and be done with it.

Long story short, I have recently procured a job at a local large-chain bookstore, and one of the fringe benefits (i.e. instead of an increase in pay) I have the opportunity to "check out" books from the store as if it were a library. Which is a good thing, because it means that I've had a chance to peruse The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design without actually having to have my hard-earned money go to Jonathan Wells. Now, since I'm still a poor undergraduate (working for six-and-change at a bookstore, at that) I'm not even going to try to critique the scientific arguments (such that they are) in the book, or to make more than generalized comments about the book as a whole. Instead, like any other twentysomething Gen-Whatever, I'm going to comment on the pop-culture references Wells makes.

Pop-culture? In what purports to be an essentially scientific/political book? Yep, in three places during the text (I skimmed over most of the book, so I may have missed on or two) Wells provides little cutesy info-boxes that contain snippets of TV sitcom dialogue, two from an episode of Friends, and one from Seinfeld.

Not really having been a fan of Friends (well, I watched most of the first season when it first premiered during my early teen years) and not having watched a lot of Seinfeld since it went off the air, I had to look up transcripts of the episodes in question, which Wells made especially difficult by not referencing episode numbers or airdates. I understand that the boxes are meant humorously, to provide a sort of lightheartedness as one goes through the text, but this lack of a reference strikes me as just one more example of the shoddy work that went into preparing the book, as those of us actually curious as to how the quotes appeared in context had to do a bit of web searching to get the information needed to track down the episodes.

I'll start with Seinfeld -- from page 139 of the book:
From Seinfeld: Kramer has an altercation with a monkey at the zoo
Kramer: So, so what do you want me to do?
Mr. Pless (zoo official): Well frankly, we'd like you to apologize.
Kramer: Yeah, well, he started it.
Mr. Pless: Mr. Kramer, he is an innocent primate.
Kramer: So am I. What about my feelings? Don't my feelings count for anything? Oh, only the poor monkey's important. Everything as to be done for the monkey!

I searched it out, and it turns out that this exchange occurs towards the end of the sixth season, in episode 109(link goes to transcript), "The Face Painter". First of all, note that the quote in question is placed totally without context -- the reader of the book has no idea what exactly this exchange is about, without actually remembering the episode. Placed as it is, I can only surmise that Wells is "arguing" that the scientific authorities (i.e. Mr. Pless) are attempting to impress upon the ID crowd (i.e. Kramer) the nature of primate emotion, and essentially are equating the hurt feelings of some monkey with those of a human being. Wells seems to be using this exchange as a proxy for the (supposed) absurdity of placing human beings anywhere within the animal kingdom, that placing primates and human beings on the same ontological level would be to deny any meaningful difference between human and animal feelings.

Let's look at the exchange in a bit more context, shall we? I'm quoting from the above transcript, and make no allowances for its technical accuracy, for I have no seen this episode, and don't have a copy handy. Since the sections in question are scattered through the episode, I'll be placing in places where nonrelated plot should go.
Jerry enters his apartment carrying a bag of groceries. As soon as Jerry closes
the door, we hear Kramer's door open and close. That moment, Kramer walks in.

Kramer: Hey, Jerry? You're a smart guy, right?

Jerry: No question about it.

Kramer: Alright, you know I'm supposed to go on this special tour today with
George's girlfriend.

Jerry: At the zoo?

Kramer: Yeah, but before I met up with her, I stopped to look at the monkeys,
when all of a sudden I am hit in the face with a banana peel. I turn and look
and there is this monkey really laughing it up. Then someone tells me that he
did it. Well, I pick up the banana peel and I wait for that monkey to turn
around. And then I *whap* let him have it.

Jerry: Kramer, you threw a banana peel at a monkey?

Kramer: Well, he started it!

Jerry: It's a monkey, Kramer!

Kramer: Well, he pushed my buttons, I couldn't help it, Jerry.

Jerry: Well, I still think it's wrong.

Kramer: Alright, alright, fine. You take the monkey's side, alright, go ahead.

Jerry: I'm not taking anyone's side.

Kramer (walking out): Cause I know what happened, Jerry.

Kramer is in the office at the zoo.

Mr. Pless: Ah, Mr. Kramer?

Kramer: Yes.

Mr. Pless: Thanks for coming.

Kramer: So, uh, what did you want to see me about?

Mr. Pless: Well, Mr. Kramer, to get right to it, we're having a bit of a
problem with Barry.

Kramer: Barry?

Mr. Pless: The chimpanzee.

Kramer: Oh. Well, uh, what's the problem?

Mr. Pless: Well, he's not functioning the way he normally does. He seems
depressed. He's lost his appetite. He's even curtailed his autoerotic
activities. And we think this is directly related to the altercation he had
with you the other day.

Kramer: So, so what do you want me to do?

Mr. Pless: Well, frankly we'd like you to apologize.

Kramer: Yeah, well he started it.

Mr. Pless: Mr. Kramer, he is an innocent primate.

Kramer: So am I. What about my feelings? Don't my feelings count for
anything? Oh, only the poor monkey's important. Everything has to be done for
the monkey! Look, I'm sorry. I--

Kramer enters.

Jerry: Hey.

Kramer: Hey. Well, I just spoke to your girlfriend.

George: Girlfriend, yeah, right.

Kramer: Anyway, she asked me to apologize to Barry.

George: Barry?

Kramer: The monkey.

Jerry: Well?

Kramer: Nothing doing. Jerry, I didn't do anything. It's the monkey that
should be apologizing to me.

Jerry: Well, I don't think that's gonna happen.

Kramer is at the zoo, talking with Barry, the monkey.

Kramer: Anyway, I um, I just want to say that I'm sorry. I lost my temper and
I probably shouldn't have. I took it out on you and, look, if I've caused you
any problems as a result of my behavior, well then, I'm sorry. I apologize.
Even though, Barry, between me and you, we both know that you started it. I
mean, who's kidding who? But they tell me that you're very upset, and god
forbid I should disturb the very important monkey, I'm just hoping we can put
this behind us, let's just move on with our lives, ok? So no hard feelings?

Kramer moves in for a handshake, Barry spits water all over his jacket. Kramer
gets defensive and Barry starts screaming and climbing the cage bars.

So basically, the storyline goes thusly: Kramer gets hit in the had with a banana peel, looks around to see a monkey through the peel at him, gets mad and throws it back. The monkey becomes depressed over its injured feelings, and Kramer is called upon by the zoo to apologize to the monkey, which he at first refuses to do because "the monkey started it". After mentioning the issue to Jerry, Kramer eventually decides to be the "better man" and apologizes to the monkey, albeit in a bit of a self-serving way, and gets water sprayed on him for his efforts.

Setting aside that this is sitcom humor all the way, and that obviously the interactions of Seinfeldians has little bearing on reality (Matt Silberstein's claims of the show being a documentary notwithstanding), what exactly does this have to do with ID? Kramer lets his emotions get the better of him, responds in kind to what is essentially a monkey being a monkey, and refuses to acknowledge the effects of his actions. Seeing the context, it is clear that in the Wells-quoted exchange, it is Kramer, not the zoo official, who sees the monkey as being in some sense equal to himself, in that he assumes that the creature has a similar moral sense and ability to show restraint that a human being should. If Kramer is supposedly standing in for ID, it's clear that Wells has not really thought out his use of this popular culture moment before including it in his book.

It's also a pretty silly scene, very much in-tone for the series, which was full of lighthearted fun being poked at various social conventions in what was often a slapstick, cartoony way.

More serious for the purposes here are the two Friends references from pages 155 and 188. Taken from episode 203 (numbered differently from the Seinfeld episode above, this was the third episode of the second season), this B-plot element actually refers to Phoebe (a hippy ditz used to great "dumb-blonde" moments on the show) disbelieving in evolution, and Ross (a paleontologist whose neurotic habits were his comic forte) trying to convince her otherwise.

Youtube actually has a video of the entire subplot edited together, but I will reproduce the sequence from the transcript here for those without access to video.
Phoebe: I'm sorry, but sometimes they need help. (Everyone groans) That's fine. Go ahead and scoff. You know there're a lot of things that I don't believe in, but that doesn't mean they're not true.

Joey: Such as?

Phoebe: Like crop circles, or the Bermuda triangle, or evolution?

Ross: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What, you don't, uh, you don't believe in evolution?

Phoebe: Nah. Not really.

Ross: You don't believe in evolution?

Phoebe: I don't know, it's just, you know...monkeys, Darwin, you know, it's a, it's a nice story, I just think it's a little too easy.

Ross: Too easy? Too...The process of every living thing on this planet evolving over millions of years from single-celled organisms, is-is too easy?

Phoebe: Yeah, I just don't buy it.

Ross: Uh, excuse me. Evolution is not for you to buy, Phoebe. Evolution is scientific fact, like, like, like the air we breathe, like gravity.

Phoebe: Ok, don't get me started on gravity.

Ross: You uh, you don't believe in gravity?

Phoebe: Well, it's not so much that you know, like I don't believe in it, you know, it's just...I don't know, lately I get the feeling that I'm not so much being pulled down as I am being pushed.

(There’s a knock on the door.)

Chandler: Uh-Oh. It's Isaac Newton, and he's pissed.

Ross: How can you not believe in evolution?

Phoebe: Just don't. Look at this funky shirt!

Ross: Pheebs, I have studied evolution my entire adult life. Ok, I can tell you, we have collected fossils from all over the world that actually show the evolution of different species, ok? You can literally see them evolving through time.

Phoebe: Really? You can actually see it?

Ross: You bet. In the U.S., China, Africa, all over.

Phoebe: See, I didn't know that.

Ross: Well, there you go.

Phoebe: Huh. So now, the real question is, who put those fossils there, and why?

Ross: Ok, Pheebs. (He’s holding two little toys.) See how I'm making these little toys move? Opposable thumbs. Without evolution, how do you explain opposable thumbs?

Phoebe: Maybe the overlords needed them to steer their spacecrafts.

Ross: Please tell me you're joking.

Phoebe: Look, can't we just say that you believe in something, and I don't.

Ross: No, no, Pheebs, we can't, ok, because—

Phoebe: What is this obsessive need you have to make everyone agree with you? No, what's that all about? I think, I think maybe it's time you put Ross under the microscope.

Ross: (To Chandler) Is there blood coming out of my ears?

(Ross enters carrying a briefcase.)

Phoebe: Uh-oh. It's Scary Scientist Man.

Ross: Ok, Phoebe, this is it. In this briefcase I carry actual scientific facts. A briefcase of facts, if you will. Some of these fossils are over 200 million years old.

Phoebe: Ok, look, before you even start, I'm not denying evolution, ok, I'm just saying that it's one of the possibilities.

Ross: It's the only possibility, Phoebe.

Phoebe: Ok, Ross, could you just open your mind like this much, ok? (Holding her thumb and forefinger close together) Wasn't there a time when the brightest minds in the world believed that the world was flat? And, up until like what, 50 years ago, you all thought the atom was the smallest thing, until you split it open, and this like, whole mess of crap came out. Now, are you telling me that you are so unbelievably arrogant that you can't admit that there's a teeny tiny possibility that you could be wrong about this? (Monica and Rachel are intrigued.)

Ross: There might be…a teeny…tiny…possibility.

Phoebe: I can't believe you caved.

Ross: What?

Phoebe: You just abandoned your whole belief system. I mean, before, I didn't agree with you, but at least I respected you. How, how, how are you going to go into work tomorrow? How, how are you going to face the other science guys? How, how are you going to face yourself? (Ross slowly closes the briefcase and walks out hugging it.) Oh! That was fun. So who's hungry?

Anyone who has ever attempted to argue science with an antievolutionist will probably experience a touch of Deja Vu when reading or watching this sequence, as in tone and structure it is very much what arguing with antievolutionists is actually like. No matter how much knowledge one presents of the science involved, antievolutionists only need a simple, "Well, I just don't believe it," or, "there are a lot of possibilities out there," to be completely secure in his or her antievolutionism. Though the character on the show comes to her antiscience position through new age beliefs while most creationists are instead religious fundamentalists, the upshot of the anti-science beliefs (and the frustrations they can cause by the reality-based community) are very similar.

Note also that Phoebe presents no evidence for her position except for a bit of far-flung (and shakily connected) metaphorical hyperbole connecting atomic theory to evolutionary biology. Ross takes a large amount of time (for a TV comedy show anyway) attempting to show her why her beliefs are unreasonable, even going so far as to literally bring museum pieces to his friend to personally demonstrate the power of evolution.

Phoebe never even bothers to look into the suitcase, and while she "wins" the confrontation insofar as the episode is concerned, she does so by denying the concept that scientific knowledge is provisional, believing that if there is the tiniest shred of doubt in evolutionary biology, that Ross's entire belief system must be completely destroyed, and by wearing down Ross's defenses by simply refusing to hear any of what he has to say.

"Fun", indeed.

It's interesting that in both of these cases, the anti-evolution character is the "dope" of the show, used entirely for comic effect and rarely if ever allowed to show any serious intent. Kramer's slapstick entrances and Phoebe's awful songwriting are notorious in sitcomland, but for a supposedly serious scientific/political argument to identify with either of these two characters only shows what buffoonery the ID movement really is.

Maybe at the next ID conference, Wells or Dembski will sing Smelly Cat to all the participants. That's probably be worth the cost of airfare.

11 September 2006


The blindingly brilliant, devastatingly handsome owner of this blog has kindly invited me as a guest poster. I've got a couple of ideas just about ready to come off of the fermenter, and will post them here in due time. Peace, y'all.

08 August 2006

Six Degrees

I've been playing the "six degrees" game with myself this afternoon -- pick a movie or TV show and try to connect it to another movie or TV show in some small number of moves. I've actually gotten fairly good, so long as I can include directors in the mix.

Take this one: the new USA network show Psych and the 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane. Ready? (I'm not including the IMDB links to all these, but they're easily lookupable if you don't believe me.)

Psych co-stars Dule Hill,
who was in She's All That,
which co-starred Usher Raymond (the singer)
who was also in The Faculty,
which had Famke Janssen,
who was in X-Men,
directed by Bryan Singer,
who also directed The Usual Suspects (Superman Returns also works here)
co-starring Kevin Spacey,
who was also in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (although I'll bet he regrets it)
with Gene Wilder,
from Young Frankenstein (or Blazing Saddles)
directed by Mel Brooks,
who also directed History of the World Part One,
narrated by Orson Welles
who directed and starred in Citizen Kane.

So Psych --> She's All That --> The Faculty --> X-men --> The Usual Suspects --> See No Evil, Hear No Evil --> Young Frankenstein --> History of the World Part One --> Citizen Kane. Eight connections.

Anybody got another good one?

The Perils of Cut + Paste

So I was reading through the archives of The Rude Pundit today, having been away from that sort of thing for a week or two, and noticed that he had several feminist bloggers guest-blog for him while he was away. In one of the previous postings, here, one of these guest bloggers (Jill, from Feministe) posted this little nugget:
Today, 90 African women will die from illegal abortions. Ninety more will die tomorrow, and 90 more will die the day after that. While only 10% of the world's abortions happen in Africa, that continent accounts for about 50% of abortion-related deaths. One in 12 women who have abortions in Africa die. For every woman who dies, 20 to 30 women have their reproductive systems permanently damaged.
Bold face added for emphasis. Does there seem something a bit wrong with the math there? If one in twelve dies, then between 240 and 360 percent of women receiving an illegal abortion in Africa has some serious medical issue. Which, rightness of the overall argument notwhithstanding, doesn't exactly seem correct.

So I did a bit of hunting, from the Rude Pundit's site, Jill links to one of her old posts here which in turn links to a no-longer-existing post on Alternet here, and seems to be an error on the part of another news organization, for a Google search revealed this link which contains the error with a bit more detail.

So what's the deal here? Since everyone's crediting the WHO for this information, I went straight to the horse's mouth: a WHO report (warning -- PDF file) on unsafe abortion practices and maternal mortality rates around the world. (See page 19 for a nice chart.)

Turns out that worldwide something on the order of nineteen million "unsafe" abortions are performed around the world, of which approximately four million two hundred thousand a performed in Africa. Of those four million and change, a hair under thirty thousand women die, which means that approximately 0.7 percent (i.e. seven in a thousand) women who undergo an unsafe abortion in Africa die during the procedure.

Which is a very far cry from the one-in-twelve numbers posted above. But still means that
The global case-fatality rate associated with abortion is probably 700 times higher than the rate associated with legal abortion in the United States; in some subregions it is well over 1000 times higher. Even in developed countries the rate is 80 times higher for an unsafe abortion as opposed to a legal procedure.(from page 22 of the PDF file)
So where did the number "one in twelve" come from? Most likely from someone misreading the data -- back on page 19 the chart gives a number of 12% for all maternal deaths due to maternal abortion. Meaning that of all deaths during childbirth, 12 percent of them are due to an illegal and unsafe abortion.

Where the "20 to 30 times" as many women being seriously injured during an illegal abortion comes from I don't know. If we accept the data as real, that means something like two to three percent of women in Africa who have an abortion are seriously injured during the procedure. A humanitarian nightmare of its own, even if it's not quite as large as the original numbers would have led one to believe.

30 July 2006

Encyclopedia Daniel

I know this is six years old, but I just found some parodies of the old Encyclopedia Brown books, using then-timely news as inspiration.

Here's how the first one, "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Child Beauty Queen", begins:
NO CRIME WENT UNSOLVED in the otherwise normal town of Idaville. Although everyone credited Chief Brown of the Idaville police for this incredible record, the truth was that his 10-year-old son, Encyclopedia, solved the toughest cases. Encyclopedia’s real name was Leroy, but everyone called him Encyclopedia because he knew everything. An encyclopedia is a series of books that contains all the facts in the entire world written from a Eurocentric perspective.

In the summertime, Encyclopedia ran a detective agency out of his garage with Sally Kimball, his junior partner. Sally was the prettiest girl in the fifth grade and the toughest, too. She was the only person who could stand up to Bugs Meany, the leader of the local gang, the Tigers. Sally’s parents worried that she might be a lesbian.
Always knew there was a reason I had a crush on Sally.

They're done by the Modern Humorist, i.e. those two dorky-looking guys who are always sitting next to each other on Best Week Ever making vaguely gay references to whatever's in celebrity news this week. Worth reading for any fan of the old E.B. books, or if you just like what you read above.

26 July 2006

Depressing stuff

From this link, ostensibly a review for An Inconvenient Truth:
Maybe as a species we really have reached the same evolutionary dead end as Australopithecus robustus – intelligent enough as a species to create problems we're not bright enough, or adaptable enough, to solve. I don’t know. But if extinction, or a return to the dark ages, is indeed our fate – or our grandchildren’s fate, anyway – I think it will be a Hobson’s choice as to which cultural tendency will bear the largest share of the blame: the arrogant empiricism that has made human society into an instrument of technological progress instead of the other way around, the ignorant prejudices of the masses, who are happy to consume the material benefits of the Enlightenment but unwilling to assume intellectual responsibility for them, or the cynical nihilism of corporate and political elites who are willing to play upon the latter in order to perpetuate the former, which is, after all is said and done, their ultimate claim to power.
Read the whole thing -- it's depressing, but interesting.

In my dark nights when I can't sleep, I often worry that this thing we call liberal democracy has basically come to an end, that the inmates have run the asylum for too long (and not just since the Shrub came into office) and that we're all basically screwed. But we can't live our lives that way, and have to hope that somehow, in some way, that reasonable people can begin to make right those things in the world that irrationality and superstition have made wrong.

Not much else to say, honestly. If I were a praying man, I'd pray.

25 July 2006

The Middle East

I can't say I have much of an opinion in terms of Mideast policy, except that the types of shit that territorialism mixed with a hyper-religiosity can cause are not exactly pleasant.

Beth sent me this link from the local news affiliate.
"The existance of Israel is a core issue to the end time events, prior to the second coming of the Lord," says Pastor Bob Somerville of the Covenant of Peace Church in Huntsville. Pastor Somerville is an evangelical Christian, and like many evangelicals, he's a strong supporter of Israel because of its place in biblical prophecy. He's sorry about the loss of life on both sides in this newest conflict in the middle east. So is the Pastor Emeritus of the Rock, David Nelson, still--"I guess I'm excited about knowing what is happening in the middle east is pointing to the coming of Jesus Christ, and it excites me about the coming of Jesus Christ," says Pastor Nelson.
Isn't it nice that Jesus needs such violence and death in his homeland before he can come back and smite all those heathens and infidels for not believing in his dad's book?

I need to move.

01 July 2006

An actual beer post

I haven't been reviewing much lately, or even drinking a lot of good beer, mainly because I've been trying to save money, and reduce my chemical dependence on alcohol. (Not too bad -- I've been more dependent on caffeine than I've ever been on alcoholic beverages.) But Beth's taking a nap at the moment, so I took the opportunity on this Saturday afternoon to review both Kingfisher Premium Lager and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine-Style Ale. The Bigfoot is fantastic, the Kingfisher... less so.

I'd forgotten how much I loved drinking and reviewing beers. The hop plant is actually in the same family as cannibis, which means that drinking very hoppy beers actually results in a very mild "high", and I must say that that effect combined with the alcohol makes for quite a happy Daniel. So I'm feeling pretty nice right now.

Olde Towne has finally released their Bock and Hefeweizen in bottles, as well. Good beers, especially the hefe, and I'm intending to make them my Fourth of July bottles.

One last thing, not beer related: I just saw this parody of the Batman origin story, and it's quite amusing.

Tomorrow, I'll put up my comments on the new Superman movie.

27 June 2006


Another quick post today. It's about six, and I've been doing chemistry homework for about three hours. It's due at midnight, but there's only so much chemistry homework one man can do, I think. Tomorrow's the second exam for the class, and I'm nowhere near ready for it.

At least I managed to get the Bohr model calculations done (with my trusty friend Excel, of course ).

Biology's going well, although I think much of the class is feeling overwhelmed with plant and animal physiology at this point. Personally, I expected this class to be much more demanding, so I'm not complaining at having to be able to tell the difference between an angiosperm and a gymnosperm. We biology majors tend to have sex on the brain, anyway, so this stuff isn't really all that complicated.

I did have the Arrogant Bastard last night, as good as ever. Lined up for tonight will be something a bit more basic, maybe an Olde Towne Bock.

26 June 2006

A week late

Damn. That's the longest between postings since I started blogging regularly again. Sorry about that, but life's been rather hectic lately, as classes have been swallowing pretty much all my free time, and I've had a slightly more active social life than usual lately.

Just finished making up a histogram for the final draft of my lab report, and I'm probably about to go home and grill up some chicken with some Arrogant Bastard Ale or some Rogue Chocolate Stout to go with it. Yum.

I've been cutting down on my drinking a bit lately, and blogging about beer makes me thirsty for it, which is part of the reason I haven't been talking a lot about beer. I know that I get a lot of searches for beer here, though, so hopefully I can find some happy medium.

(I've also got an Imperial Stout sitting in the fridge, but I'm using that as a celebratory beer for either getting this job I'm looking at, or finishing this semester with good grades.)

I've got another chemistry test on Wednesday, and I'm not prepared for it in the least. Hopefully I can master net ionic equations and oxidation numbers in the next thirty-six hours or so.

I've got a humorous and slightly disgusting post coming up, if I'm up to it after the exam and lab report and chemistry laboratory and... et cetera. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy....

19 June 2006

Random Monday Stuff

According to statcounter, someone was googling "uah and biology lab" and ended up on one of my pages. He or she then continued to read through all my archives, from the first to the last. Since that's exactly what I do to any blog that I really enjoy, it looks like I've got my first fan -- welcome, whoever you are!

I ended up getting an 88 on my first Chemistry test, which I was afraid I failed, so I'm reasonably happy. Lucked out on the bonus question, though, in knowing that phosphoric acid is added to soda to help increase the solubility of caffeine. Definitely have to study more later on.

Beth is sick today, so I'm helping to take care of her. Looks like just a stomach bug.

Also, a nice link here from Adventures in Ethics and Science, about rampant sexism among Slashdot readers/editors. I can't read Slashdot lately (their new site design crashes Opera, and I've got enough stuff to do already without fiddling with settings or --gasp-- opening Firefox) but Dr. Stemwedel seems to have their number pretty well.
Given how tetchy people get if one even floats the possibility that some kind of sexism might be at the bottom of the underrepresentation of women in computer science and similar fields, it's striking how the very existence of outreach to women is tagged as sexist with only a wisp of common wisdom to bolster that tag.

But maybe the good folks at Slashdot are just hoping to spark a reasoned debate that might lead us all to re-examine our own assumptions on the matter. Yeah, that's probably it.
Hear, hear! That's one reason why Slashdot conversations can be so meaningless on any topic except development or hardware -- the sheer ignorance of most Slashdot posters is abysmal.

For Fans of Ebert

I'm just a sucker for Roger Ebert -- I've been reading virtually every word he's written online for the last eight years or so, so this link was right up my alley.
When you come across a movie that is rated at THREE & ONE-HALF stars, make a point to go see that movie. It will probably become one of your favorites and more than likely you'll actually buy the DVD someday. There's just something magical about the Threefie. I can't put my finger on it, but I would theorize that because Ebert isn't dealing in absolutes something extraordinary occurs...
I've definitely noticed this phenomenon -- the three-and-a-half-star movies from Ebert tend to be more likely to become quirky cult classics than four-stars, and tend to have a more "genre" feel than they might otherwise. For instance, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jersey Girl, all Kevin Smith films, got three-and-a-half stars from Ebert.

I have a long day of classes today, and will probably get my first Chemistry test back -- wish me luck.

18 June 2006

An Algebra Lesson

For those of us who aren't really intuitive mathematical, here's a nice little blog post about why 0.999... really is equal to 1. Clear, concise, and completely convincing.

I was working on some Chemistry homework that I thought was due tomorrow, but it turns out it's not due until Wednesday. Which is good, because I haven't a clue in how to solve some of this shit.

I'm also trying out some online radio stations from the lab. Nice enough that I would really like to get high-speed internet so that I can play with it from home. I'm listening to a heavily-90's-alternative-infused Hypoxia Radio now. And since there's nothing better than nineties alternative, this must be one of the best radio stations in the universe... (Threw that one in there for Beth, who has little patience for depressing nineties alternative.)

14 June 2006

Addendum to the Last Post

P-Zed has a full-on response to the same article I wrote my last post about. Except he's way better at it than I am.

Sorry posting has been spotty, but I've been quite busy lately. I'm also trying to cut back on the drinking, so my beer reviews have been lacking.

10 June 2006

Homosexuality in the Natural Kingdom

Via Seed Magazine comes this article, entitled "The Gay Animal Kingdom." It's about the work of Joan Roughgarden, herself a male-to-female transsexual, in describing what she sees at the weaknesses of Darwin's concepts of sexual selection and the ultimate survival value of homosexual rites in populations in the non-human world.

Let's put it this way: homosexuality exists in the natural world. Aside from gay penguins in the Central Park zoo, certain species of lizards have been known to have female-female sexual contact, male big horn sheep have all-male orgies, et cetera. But why should such homosexual behavior continue to exist, given that those animals that only perform homosexual sex will not pass down their genes?

A simple answer is that whatever "gay gene" or "gay genes" that may exist (I'm personally not the kind of person who believes in a "gay gene", but go with it for now) may be an advantageous trait when heterozygous, even if it is deleterious when homozygously recessive. The advantage that those possessing one copy of the gene coding for sickle cell disease have among their non-heterozygote countrymen is the classic example here. (See also the Wikipedia entry for heterozygote advantage.) In other words, if there is an advantage to having one copy of the gene, statistically-speaking it'll keep showing up even if it is harmful when it shows up in two copies -- this is one of the consequences of being a diploid organism.

More to the point, and neglecting the dubious "gay gene" concept, homosexual individuals provide "child-raisers", in social animals, without adding to the population of children to be raised. Hence they could very easily simply pass their genes along through their cousins, so long as familial groups coincide neatly with social groups.

All this is fairly old hat. Where Roughgarden goes is different:
According to Roughgarden, gayness is a necessary side effect of getting along. Homosexuality evolved in tandem with vertebrate societies, in which a motley group of individuals has to either live together or die alone. In fact, Roughgarden even argues that homosexuality is a defining feature of advanced animal communities, which require communal bonds in order to function. "The more complex and sophisticated a social system is," she writes, "the more likely it is to have homosexuality intermixed with heterosexuality."

Japanese macaques, an old world primate, illustrate this principle perfectly. Macaque society revolves around females, who form intricate dominance hierarchies within a given group. Males are transient. To help maintain the necessary social networks, female macaques engage in rampant lesbianism. These friendly copulations, which can last up to four days, form the bedrock of macaque society, preventing unnecessary violence and aggression. Females that sleep together will even defend each other from the unwanted advances of male macaques. In fact, behavioral scientist Paul Vasey has found that females will choose to mate with another female, as opposed to a horny male, 92.5% of the time. While this lesbianism probably decreases reproductive success for macaques in the short term, in the long run it is clearly beneficial for the species, since it fosters social stability. "Same-sex sexuality is just another way of maintaining physical intimacy," Roughgarden says. "It's like grooming, except we have lots of pleasure neurons in our genitals. When animals exhibit homosexual behavior, they are just using their genitals for a socially significant purpose."

In other words, homosexual behavior is to be expected in any social animal, and acts as a sort of "social lubricant" that keeps groups together and happy. And in the case of those Japanese macaques, this may in fact be true, but to generalize to the whole of homosexual behavior from these examples is a bit premature, in my book. I agree strongly with PZ Myers, quoted at the end of the article: "I think much of what Roughgarden says is very interesting. But I think she discounts many of the modifications that have been made to sexual selection since Darwin originally proposed it. So in that sense, her Darwin is a straw man. You don't have to dismiss the modern version of sexual selection in order to explain social bonding or homosexuality." (I'm sure he's happy to know that I agree.)

What's interesting is where Roughgarden sees human sexuality in all this.
"In our culture, we assume that there is a straight-gay binary, and that you are either one or the other. But if you look at vertebrates, that just isn't the case. You will almost never find animals or primates that are exclusively gay. Other human cultures show the same thing." Since Roughgarden believes that the hetero/homo distinction is a purely cultural creation, and not a fact of biology, she thinks it is only a matter of time before we return to the standard primate model. "I'm convinced that in 50 years, the gay-straight dichotomy will dissolve. I think it just takes too much social energy to preserve. All this campy, flamboyant behavior: It's just such hard work."

While I'd agree that human society (at least in the Western world today) largely uses sex as a social bonding ritual and as entertainment, only reproducing a few times in a lifetime filled with sexual encounters, I'd argue that the barrier between heterosexuality and homosexuality is a bit more stringent that Roughgarden believes. While there are many bisexual individuals in the human species, the vast majority of us are either heterosexual or homosexual, and there's some pretty good science supporting the idea that it's inborn, at least to some degree. Roughgarden's sexual experiences may have enlightened her to the idea that perhaps same-sex interactions serve social purpose in social animals, but it seems to have also blinkered her to the more common feelings of sexual desire: homosexual or heterosexual describe our ontogeny, who we are, and not what we do.

I'm keeping my eyes open on this one, though. It's a fascinating issue and one that's not likely to be solved by mostly-ignorant bloggers like me.

At least it's air conditioned in here

Today we went to visit some of Beth's family for a birthday party for two children (both birthdays are in June, so they celebrate together) and given the 90-95 degree heat, I've got to say I was looking forward to moving on. Not that I don't like spending time with my nephews or anything, but it's really frickin' hot, and a two-and-three-year old aren't necessarily my definition of enlightening coversationalists.

(But am I going to be an evil Uncle Daniel to them? You bet I am -- who else will give them their first American IPA?)

So we get done at the birthday party and go see some more of Beth's family, and then we came home and I (after taking a quick bathroom break) picked up my chemistry book and came back to the Research Institute computer lab for more chemistry homework. I've been here for about two hours now, and have maybe an hour left to go -- I'm going to finish up with this post and then head back home.

Tomorrow is my lab report day -- work on my first lab report for BYS120 -- and study day for the bio test I have on Tuesday and the chem test on Wednesday. Lots of work, but it sure beats working at OfficeMax.

09 June 2006

Bad News

Due to a bit of a problem with my currently extant student loans, it looks like I won't be able to get any Federal money for the fall to continue with my education, which means that I'll have to at least get a part-time job to pay for schooling, and may have to get something full-time in the Fall and take at most one class. Which sucks. But is my own fault.

Anyone know of a good job for a poor college student?

08 June 2006

A Few Links

John Wilkins and Good Math, Bad Math have both joined the Scienceblogs community. Now I'll never get any work done.

This post over at Uncertain Principles is the kind of science post that Beth should love.

I've got two tests and a lab report due next week. Posting will probably be spotty.

07 June 2006

Election Results

So it looks like Roy Moore was handily defeated in the Republican primary yesterday, and Lucy Baxley is the Democratic candidate for governor of AL. I'm no Republican, but Riley impressed me right after his election in trying to get some more progressive tax legislation passed, so to my mind it's a pretty good choice either way.

Larry Darby was also defeated in his bid for Attorney General, by 56-44. 44% of Alabama Democrats voted for the guy? I can only hope his Holocaust denial wasn't well-known among the electorate. Scary.

Some bad news, though, in that the amendment declaring marriage in Alabama as to be between a man and a woman passed by a resounding 81-19 margin. I wonder how that breaks down by Democratic/Republican lines.

One of these days we're going to get some sense in this state.

06 June 2006

After my own heart

Beth sent me a nice cartoon from Natalie Dee.

Bought my labcoat and goggles today. If I can get Beth to take a photo, I'll post it tomorrow.

Links and stuff

I've only got a second, for I'm going to go vote in the Democratic primary down the road here before class at 10:15 (strange that the primary date for the election of the Alabama governorship when Roy Moore is a candidate is 06/06/2006, isn't it?), but I wanted to throw out a quick link.

This article talks about the current twentysomething's generation difficulty in making ends meet relative to their parents' and grandparents' generations, and from anecdotal evidence I'd say she's right on the money, despite a bit of fuzzy statistics in the interview.

Hopefully more later today.

05 June 2006


While I was avoiding doing that dreaded chemistry homework, I checked over on sitecounter and noticed that somebody just checked out my blog with the search "beyonce biology". Now that's the kind of guy who'd probably love this blog.

Back to the grindstone now. [(-b + sqrt[b^2-4ac])/2a] and [(-b - sqrt[b^2-4ac])/2a]

My brain is tired...

Chemistry Blues

Sorry no updates over the weekend, but... holy shit. This chemistry thing is getting out of hand.

Let me explain: I'm taking Ch121 (General Chemistry) over here at UAH along with my biology class. And, of course, I'm taking summer courses, which is a shorter semester than the regular-length semester, and necessitates a bit of compression in order to fit in all the material. All of which is understood -- the class meets from 10:15 to 12:15 Mondays and Wednesdays, with lab from 2:00 to 5:00 on those days, and what's called a "recitation" (basically Q&A with the TA of the professor teaching the course) one day a week.

The semester runs from May 30 to August 2, or about ten weeks. During that period, two of our class periods will be missed (for Memorial Day and Independence Day) meaning that we have a total of 18 class sessions. And we're covering 12 chapters in that time, which adds up (if my math is correct) to about two-thirds of a chapter per class session, or about one-third of a chapter per hour of class time.

Okay, so it's meant to be a whirlwind course, and is demanding precisely because it's so compressed. All well and good. Except that the homework assignments for the chapters apparently haven't been decreased at all due to the shortened schedule, which means that in the online OWL System, for the first two days of class time we are required to complete forty-three miniature assignments. I've currently spent about five hours or so working on them, and have one more that I just can't seem to get the numbers to agree on.

So I decided to take some time to write this blog entry to complain about it.

What's more, my home computer is Linux based, and the OWL system requires Authorware, which doesn't come in a Linux version, so I'm doing all of this in a public computer lab instead of drinking beer in my comfy chair.

Not to bitch too much -- I'm liking the instructor and the course overall, and it's an interesting class that's required for my major, but this eternity spent doing homework is for the birds.

Going to try to finish the last of these assignments (working the quadratic equation with numbers in scientific notation just asks for arithmetic errors) and try to go home to my lovely. More tomorrow, but I'm not planning to complete the "first week of classes" bit -- I've just got too much to do.

(I think there's some Stone at home calling my name.)

02 June 2006

My Jumbled Thoughts and Meandering Review of X3

So on Monday night Beth and I went to see X3 (or, if you go by the official title, X-Men: The Last Stand), and I've been wanting to chat a bit about it here ever since then. It seems like I've got a lot to say and am having trouble organizing it, but overall.... it's just not worth the effort.

Let me explain. I was never a fan of comic books as a kid. I had a couple of Superman comics and a few others, but it was never a big part of my childhood reading, and I really got less out of it than my straight science and science fiction reading. The X-men, in particular, held no interest to me -- I didn't even watch the Saturday morning cartoon.

That said, I always loved superhero stories, and used to make up endless fantasies of my own when I was a child. I loved the idea of telekinesis or superspeed or superstrength or the ability to fly... and even today there's that preteen inside me that just wishes I could open doors without touching them or run faster than the speed of sound, as much as I'd really rather be more mature than that.

In other words, I come to the X-men movies without any backstory, with no baggage at all, but looking at them as enjoyable fantasy movies that are divorced from any prior art, but that I nonetheless have a certain affinity for on a subject-matter level. And, to be honest, these films have always felt rather lightweight and fluffy to me, great little popcorn adventures but (despite the political subtext) lacking any real character development or gravitas that comes from insightful resonance with modern-day culture.

And, on that level, X3 delivers, despite having quite a few, "uh, that was dumb" moments that I don't really recall from the first two. (The most important of which being -- and forgive me, because I'm going into heavy spoiler territory for the rest of my comments -- Magneto's need to move the entire Golden Gate Bridge for the purpose of landing a few dozen mutants on Alcatraz. Wouldn't something considerably smaller like a tanker truck or even a big sheet of scrap metal work just as well?) I know that the fanboys get wet dreams over the "Dark Phoenix" saga, and I'm sure that if I'd read the comics I'd be disappointed, but films in general just don't work for the kind of episodic long-form storytelling that is the norm in the comic book world -- why has the epic that is The Watchmen taken so long to come to the screen?

In short, X-Men:The Last Stand is a nice piece of fluffy entertainment, enjoyable as far as it goes, although serious fans of the comics will probably feel very gypped by some of the choices made. That said, I'd like to comment a bit about a few things, so let me meander a bit.

Firstly, James Marsden is actually quite good in his limited screen time as Cyclops. I've always thought that his character suffered quite a bit compared to Wolverine, ignored to the point of blandness, but here Marsden is given a bit more weight to carry and is even allowed to grow some stubble. And we all know how stubble makes great acting -- he's good here, and I was actually left wishing I'd had a bit more to chew on.

Secondly, Kelsey Grammer is just a wonderful choice to play Beast. I never read the comics, but knew a bit of this character's history, and despite the shortened shooting schedule leading to a very effects-poor portrayal, I really liked the character, and felt that Grammer gave a really nice performance in what is really a thankless role. I know that there are Wolverine spin-offs coming, and I hope Beast makes a return there, as the character is a really fascinating one and really deserves more than the few minutes of screentime he gets.

Halle Berry is finally able to let loose a bit with Storm, being given a more active role and allowed to use her powers, and I have to say that I liked this version better. An actress with the fame and acting chops of Berry being shunted into the background for the first two films has very good reason to feel slighted by the production, but I hope that Berry reconsiders her decision to leave the films here to reprise her role.

More good stuff, in sentence form, just to get it out of the way. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are great as always in their roles as Professor X and Magneto, although the writing of the former could have used some tightening up. Hugh Jackman continues to prove that Wolverine is the role he was born to play, despite being used to a bit more comic effect in this film than in the others. And Rebecca Romijn is a perfect Mystique, playing up the sexiness and the manipulative qualities of her character to the hilt in her all-to-brief screentime.

And now, for the negatives. I'm sorry, but we all knew it had to come to this.

What the fuck was up with the whole Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) subplot? I know it's supposed to lend emotional resonance to Rogue's (Anna Paquin) decision to take the cure, but to spend so much time on what was ultimately a stupid unresolved love triangle just seems silly.

This movie has cameo disease. I know that a lot of these mutants are fan favorites, but why bring a character (let alone a half-dozen) into the film only to give him or her one big effects moment and a few lines of dialogue? Other than Grammer's Beast, this applies to pretty much every character not in the last two films, who seem to be thrown in "to please the fans" but are given very little to do. I love Vinnie Jones from Snatch, and he does have one nice line, but overall he's wasted as the Juggernaut, a character whose powers could have been developed into a full-length subplot. Jones doesn't even get the time to stand around and look menacing, basically being pulled out for two big scenes and left to languish otherwise. Ben Foster as Angel doesn't even get that much -- Angel's best scene is before the opening credits, being played by a younger actor in a sequence that is genuinely disturbing.

And finally, the very last shot in the movie, right before the closing credits. (There's a very short scene after the closing credits that you should stick around for, as well.) Magneto, having had his powers removed by the cure, sits forlornly in what looks to be Central Park in front of a chessboard, alone. He reaches his finger towards one of the metal chessmen, willing it to move.... and right before the hard cut to black, it jiggles. Of course this sets up another sequel, and of course in the comics mythology the cure isn't permanent, but isn't there a more poetic moment in seeing this "god among men", this highly powerful mutant with nearly infinite power, reduced to the state of being a mere ant in comparison? Forget the excitement of another movie, isn't leaving the bastard exactly where he is in that park, an old man waiting for certain death, the most fitting ending to the film as a whole?

One last positive bit before I go. I've seen and heard a lot of commentary from people who claim that Brett Ratner's style is so remarkably different from Brian Singer's, that Ratner shouldn't have directed the series or whatever you want. I say this: whatever the faults with this film, they are really not Ratner's fault -- he was brought in at the end of the preproduction process to direct this movie, and shot the script that was handed to him. The whole production team from X2 stuck around for X3, and visually the films seem to be one of a piece, there are no huge stylistic differences between them. Anyone who complains of the relatively stilted direction here should remember that Singer isn't exactly a huge stylistic talent either, despite his geek cred (and that he executive-produces House).

That's it. I know I complain a lot about it, but it was really a decent movie and probably worth the eight bucks or so to see in a theater. Is it the best movie it could be? No, and I blame the mangled production schedule for that far more than any individual member of the writing staff or production crew or cast. It simply wasn't given the time to be a great movie.

My First Week of Classes Part I -- Tuesday Biology Class

I'm doing a few posts to get my caught up as to what's been going on over the last week or so, what with classes and such, so forgive the relatively high posting volume.


First day of class. BYS120 (Organismal Biology) at 10:15 to 12:15, and BYS120L (Organismal Biology Lab) from 12:45 to 3:15. Fun!

Except I was very nearly late. The power had flickered off and on the night before, and while my computer rebooted just fine, it turned out that the internal timer got set back by about ten minutes, so when I was going by that clock to know when to go hop in the shower and go to class, I ended up getting there by the skin of my teeth.

So I walk into the fairly large hall with space for around 125-150 students, and find about forty of my fellow travellers. As expected, for a summer class, but what was not expected was the fact that Bruce Stallsmith, my professor for the spring session of the Introductory Biology class and the self-titled "runner of the freshman biology program at UAH", wasn't present. Despite the fact that his name was on the class sign-up sheet.

Instead, we were graced by the presence of Judy Cooper (no link at UAH), who said that she is not yet a full professor (not having her doctorate), but who currently has a BS in Biology, a MS in Biology, and an MS in Philosophy, all from UAH. My thoughts: 1) if I have any procedural questions about the university, I know just who to go to -- this woman has probably been at this university for a decade or more. 2) since I was once a fairly-serious Philosophy major at UAH, perhaps this class might be a bit more interesting and involving than Stallsmith's admittedly informing but strongly lecture-and-powerpoint-heavy style.

Then again, we are talking about a "devil we don't", here, but since I was bound to get a new professor eventually, there's really no room to complain here.

Cooper described herself as having a primary interest in paleontology (yay for evolution!) and handed out the syllabus. Two major exams counting 25 points each, a final counting 50 points, and a lab grade worth 25 points. She also seems to expect a lot more from us than Stallsmith did in terms of understanding the material in the book independently -- Stallsmith seemed to have the philosophy that if he didn't go over it in some detail in class, it wasn't really important to him.

In other words, this class looks to be a step up in difficulty from the first one. As expected -- the BYS119 class was a bit of a "gut" class.

We ended up spending about an hour and fifteen minutes or so on actual material after the end of start-of-semester formalities, starting with history-of-biology/philosophy-of-biology issues that seemed, at least in my state of rudimentary knowledge from independent reading and conversations with John Wilkins, pretty-much on the level. She let us out of class about thirty minutes early because of the lack of air conditioning in the room, and believe me when I say that when there's no air conditioning in Alabama in the summer, it's very nice to get out a bit early.

I'll have more from the first week of classes this weekend.

(I originally had a long and involved --and nitpicky-- discussion of Plato's Doctrine of the Ideals in this post, but decided it made me look like a jerk to go on and on about it. So I've removed it, although I don't think anyone read it in the six hours or so after I posted it and before I deleted it.)

Stealing my thunder

Ah, so some Scienceblogger is talking about alcohol, and even has a photo of a beer in a pilsner glass next to the article.

Obviously he's stealing from my blog, right?

New link

Olde Towne has finally put up their website. It's a 3MB Flash animation, which sucks for those of us who are still on dialup, but it looks nice and seems reasonably informative, even if they don't have any information about their hefeweizen on-site.

I hate heavy Flash pages, especially when they misuse focus the way this one does.

01 June 2006

Finally, a local I can get behind!

Olde Towne Bock was released in bottles this week. Just picked some up over at the BP in Five Points last night -- went great with the grilled cheeseburgers we had for dinner. I'm going to be making this a regular part of my beer consumption -- it's got a nice sweetness to it, fairly flat on the carbonation, with a sort of apple and malty wheat undertone that makes it a really interesting, but remarkably drinkable beer.

Spiffy new bottles too. Here:

Also, a bit of good news: got a 100 on the first BYS120 test this morning. I'm worried about the chemistry one I had Wednesday, though.

Holy Shit

...it's been over a week since I did a real post. In my defense, I've been busy -- there's been a lot going on in my life since I last got into this Blogger software.

Also, it seems there's a lot going on in the blog. I ended up getting into the most recent Carnival of the Godless, which is cool, and I welcome all those who showed up for a bit of my commentary. And sure, that entry is a bit sentimental, but I like it anyway.

So here's the skinny -- on Thursday and Friday, I went back down to Millbrook to see my parents and my sister, and basically just had an emotional but enjoyable couple of days. Thursday night Alicia and I went to her boss's house for an evening of drinking and conversating, but her boss indicated that she had no beer in the house, only hard liquor. Since liquor upsets my stomach in even moderate quantities, Alicia and I stopped by the Winn-Dixie in Millbrook for some beer.

Oh, god. Don't even try to stop by Winn-Dixie in Millbrook for beer. You'll cry yourself senseless. No good beer at all, no Sierra Nevada, no Sam Adams, not even Heineken. Literally the only imported beer they carried was Corona, and everything else was a BMC product. They did have Michelob Amber Bock, and so I picked up a sixer of that for me and some Smirnoff flavored "chick beer" for Alicia. Funny thing is that I ended up drinking the whole sixer of the Michelob, where I usually have two or three beers at most when I'm at home -- conversation really gets my drink on.

(Yeah, I was a bit hungover the next morning, but not too bad.)

Friday I took my mother to the grocery store (after trying in vain to feed Camden without getting baby goop all over me) and we bought a lot of grillable food. Since I love to grill, I had offered to cook up a whole messload of burgers and dogs and such, and Mom took me up on the offer -- I must've been out grilling for an hour and a half. They're probably still eating on all that food.

Mom offered to let me take a plate home, but I didn't want my car to smell like hamburgers (it's a three-hour drive), so I left it with them. The drive home was a bit rainy, but uneventful, and overall the way I like it -- boring.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were dull days for us -- Saturday and Sunday we stayed at home and basically just chilled out, and Monday we ended up going to see X3 with another friend of mine, which I'll discuss in another post.

Tuesday was my first day back in classes. I'll have more about my classes and the movie and some other stuff in other posts I put up today and tomorrow. 'Til then, adieu.

Movie Review Link

Just read this review of the new Vaughn/Anniston comedy The Break-Up over at AICN, and wanted to throw it up here before I forgot it.

25 May 2006

Welcome Pharyngulates!

I've noticed several people clicking on my Asimov commentary from the Pharyngula post I commented on yesterday. Stretch out, look around for awhile, feel free to let me know what I got wrong.

I'm out of town for today and tomorrow, but classes start back on Tuesday and I'm sure I'll have plenty of stuff to talk about by then, if not before.

Remember, if you don't comment, you're with the terrorists.

24 May 2006

A Voice of Reason at WND?

Amazing. Just amazing.

I'm going to keep this link and send it to everyone who ever hassles me about school prayer in the future.

New Arguments Refuted in an Old Book

Okay, so I've been talking about naked chicks and porn stars lately, so today I'll actually discuss something worth discussing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been reading a whole lot of old books by Isaac Asimov during my break between classes (any obsessed fan like me might find J. H. Jenkin's Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov an interesting way to kill time), basically just because I find his work easy-to-read, enlightening (at least in a science-history kind of way) and overall just fun.

(I sometimes get depressed because so many of Asimov's books, especially his essay collections and early books on science, are not in-print and haven't been in my lifetime. Most of my books by Asimov have been purchased at used bookstores, and almost all of them are thirty years old or more.)

One of the books that I found myself reading was Only a Trillion (Jenkins' review here, in which he mentions in passing what I will spend some energy on). It's one of Asimov's very early (1957) science essay collections, and chronologically number 24 in Asimov's list of published books (the fact that this is one of his "early" works and is only his 24th is amazing in itself -- many authors could produce 24 books in a lifetime and be considered "prolific") -- the book deals primarily with matters of chemistry and a bit of atomic physics, concentrating on the distribution of the various types of atoms in the Earth's crust, and in the universe in general.

I won't make detailed commentary here about the nature of Asimov's science, as I'm not (yet) educated enough in the modern-day nature of chemistry to comment directly as to how much of what he says is no longer considered accurate. But there is one essay, "The Unblind Workings of Chance", that seems so relevant today that I almost pinched myself when I read it.

The question is, how did the atoms in those small molecules [here he refers to water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia in particular, but to "atoms that make up nucleoproteins" in general] manage to place themselves just so in order that the first nucleoprotein molecule might be formed? Once one nucleoprotein molecule exists, it can guide the formation of others. But how was the first one formed?

Could it have been the result of the blind workings of chance? Could the atoms have just happened to bump one another and stuck together in the right pattern -- just by chance, after a billion years of random trying?


...I will only say that the chances are more infinitesimal than you or I can imagine. So infinitesimal, that if the known universe were crammed with nothing but people and each person performed the test twenty times a second (a hundred times a second, a thousand times, what's the difference!) for a billion years (or a trillion or a trillion trillion), the chances of any one of those humans coming up with a perfect nucleoprotein pattern at any instant in all that time is still infinitesimal.

That kind of thing was pointed out, rather triumphantly, by Lecomte du Nouy, in a book named Human Destiny, published in 1947. His point of view was that this proved it to be completely unreasonable to suppose that life had originiated by the blind workings of change, and that therefore there must have been some directing intelligence behind its origin. (Asimov, p. 102-103)

The de Nouy book is on Amazon here, and I must admit I haven't read it. I'll see if I can't find it in one of my local libraries, though, because this argument sounds like something I've heard before, doesn't it? Why, it's that horrid old "Argument from Design" dressed up in the language of "irreducible complexity" and "tornado in a junkyard", being refuted by Asimov (a biochemist, not a biologist) decades before "Intelligent Design" was a glimmer in anyone's eye, hell, three years before even the foundational book of the original scientific creationism movement, The Genesis Flood was published. (Isn't it ironic that The Genesis Flood is still in print, while the Asimov book is not?)

Asimov triumphantly defeats the hoary old probability argument just a few paragraphs later. The whole essay is worth a read, and goes into much more detail, but:

We have no right to assume they [hydrogen and oxygen molecules] combine at random, and, as a matter of fact, they don't. The chemical properties of the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are such that the combination H-O-H is the only one that has any reasonable probability at all, so it is the only combination formed.


So one does not and must not ask: what are the chances that a nucleoprotein molecule is built up through the blind workings of chnace?

One must ask: what are the chances that a nucleoprotein molecule is built up through the known laws of physics and chemistry -- the very definitely unblind workings of chance? (Asimov, p. 104-105)

He then goes on to describe in some detail how individual atoms are made into monomers, which can then (with introduction of energy) be converted via peptide bonds into proteins. Basically laying to rest a whole sheaf of those ignorant probability calculations that we see so often from anti-evolutionists everywhere. Many large libraries should still have a copy of the book, for anyone interesting in reading it.

Only a Trillion, Asimov, Isaac. 1957. Abelard-Schuman Ltd.

23 May 2006

I've got no problems with psychology, I promise

Just stuck a photo into the MyHeritage.com Celebrity face analyzer. Guess who I look like?

That's right, crazy-ass, couch-jumping, anti-depressant-pooh-poohing, placenta-eating Tom Cruise. (Oh, and also a huge movie star who has made quite a few really really fuckin' good movies. And one more to boot.

I'd throw up the picture it gave me for comparison, but MyHeritage won't let me save the pictures it throws up (damned Flash!). My other matches include Sean Connery, Sylvester Stallone, Meg Ryan (!), and Kenneth Branaugh. I can go with that.

Since I'm linking to the Superficial above, and in a blatant attempt to increase my visit count, I'm also linking to Jessica Alba being a tease, getting all Sapphic with Rosario Dawson (I wish!), wearing a bikini, picking a wedgie in a totally sexy way, and bending over in a white bikini. You're welcome.

Oh, and I just did this picture of Beth.

One of hers was Christy Turlington. Whoo-hoo! I'm engaged to a mid-90's supermodel! (Not a supermodel in her mid-90's, mind you...)

Where'd I hear that name again?

And we thought Roy Moore was bad.

Larry Darby is running for State Attorney General here in Alabama. He's an atheist (good) but he's a holocaust denier (bad) and just a total whackjob in general. He's trailing in the polls, but not by much, probably more due to his atheism than his radical racist views.

But I kept wondering why that name sounded so familiar -- turns out, it wasn't that particular name, but a fairly similar name that made me sit up and notice.

Not that I wouldn't vote for Lannie Barbie (NSFW) for attorney general ahead of Larry Darby, at least porn stars use lots of lube before they fuck you.

22 May 2006

Sexin' up the Bio Blog Just a Bit

I used to be a very regular poster over on the Usenet group talk.origins. Talk.origins is known not only for the highly intelligent and enlightening discussions vis a vis evolution, creationism, and biology in general, but also its huge numbers of puns, in-jokes, and variously interesting (and completely off-topic) posts.

This is one of mine from June 14, 2004, that I am actually particularly proud of.

As Matt Silberstein said immediately after I posted it:

I nominate this for a new category, Off Topic Post of the Month.

It was inventive, thorough, "scientific", humorous, and just plain

I give to you: my analysis of the 2004 "VH1's Hottest Hotties" list, with analysis of racial-and-hair color data. Today I could write this up in a much more "scientific" way, but I've already wasted too much time with it and I'd rather just post the old one as-is.

Actually, _my_ opinion was that most "sex symbols" were non-white. I think here you're referring to the original poster.

And, just to prove that I have way too much time on my hands, I did a little informal survey of VH1's "100 Hottest Hotties" list (available at VH1.com). First I removed all the men from the hundred (because, dammit, it's my survey and I'll do what I want to) leaving fifty-eight of the
hotties to survey. I looked at the list and determined what the skin/hair color of the hotties was. For those whose assets were unfamiliar to me, I spent a bit of time looking up the names on the IMDB -- I went with the main image on the actress's main page. For simplicity, I merely went with white/not-white and blonde/not-blonde. The abbreviations should be obvious. Many of these actresses have changed their hair color at times; I went with whatever the most recent look I could remember was. Disagreements on that matter should go to /dev/null. Here's the list:

100 Amy Smart (w/b)
98 Jessica Biel (w/nb)
96 Vivica A. Fox (nw/nb)
95 Heather Graham (w/b)
93 Lucy Lui (nw/nb)
91 Keira Knightley (w/b)
90 Courteney Cox (w/b)
88 Olsen Twins (w/b)*
86 Serena Williams (nw/nb)
85 Ashley Judd (w/nb)
83 Shakira (nw/b)
81 Charlize Theron (w/b)
80 Adrianna Lima (nw/nb)**
79 Alyssa Milano (w/nb)
77 Christina Aguilera (w/b)***
75 Kylie Minogue (w/nb)
73 Brittany Murphy (w/b)
71 Eva Mendes (nw/nb)
69 Sarah Michelle Gellar (w/b)
67 Gabrielle Union (nw/nb)
66 Scarlett Johannsen (w/b)
64 Penelope Cruz (nw/nb)
63 Ashanti (nw/nb)
62 Jenna Jameson (w/b)
60 Rebecca Romijn Stamos (w/b)
58 Kate Bosworth (w/b)
56 Laura Prepon (w/nb)
54 Tyra Banks (nw/nb)
52 Naomi Watts (w/b)
50 Catherine Zeta-Jones (w/nb)
48 Julia Roberts (w/nb)
46 Jessica Alba (w/nb)
44 Heather Locklear (w/b)
43 Mandy Moore (w/nb)
41 Katie Holmes (w/nb)
42 Brooke Burns (nw/nb)
38 Kate Hudson (w/b)
36 Gisele (w/nb)
35 Kate Beckinsale (w/nb)
33 Gwen Stefani (w/b)
31 Nicole Kidman (w/nb) ****
30 Denise Richards (w/nb)
28 Diane Lane (w/nb)
26 Anna Kournikova (w/b)
25 Salma Hayek (nw/nb)
23 Carmen Electra (w/nb)
22 Demi Moore (w/nb)
20 Jessica Simpson (w/b)
19 Jennifer Aniston (w/nb)
17 Cameron Diaz (w/b)
15 Mischa Barton (w/nb)
13 Jennifer Garner (w/nb)
11 J. Lo's Ass (nw/nb)*****
9 Pam Anderson (w/b)
7 Halle Berry (nw/nb)
4 Britney Spears (w/b)
2 Angelina Jolie (w/nb)
1 Beyonce (nw/nb)

*The Olsen Twins were counted as one on the VH1 list, and who am I to argue?

**No pics on main page of IMDB -- I found an image gallery and went with the flow.

***I know that Christina Aguilera is supposedly "ethnic". Whatever.

****Nicole Kidman's been changing her hair a lot lately. In her most recent movie she has dark hair. Good enough for me.

*****Yes, she is really listed as "J. Lo's Ass" on the list. And no, I'm not making any jokes about the hair color on J. Lo's Ass. Not a one.

Of this list, thirty-five of the fifty-eight are non-blonde, and fifteen of the fifty-eight are non-white. (There is one who is both non-white and blonde, the singer Shakira.) Of the non-whites, seven are generic "ethnic", seven are black, and one is Asian (Lucy Liu). So that while
non-whites do not dominate the list numerically, non-blondes do. Also note that the top of the list is more non-white, non-blonde than the list as a whole; the top four positions are all non-blonde, and only one of those is white. The top white is that annoyingly artificial Pam Anderson.

If one takes Amy Smart as 1 and Beyonce as 58, and average all the scores, then whites have a total score of 1322, and an average score of 30.74. Non-whites have a total score of 399, and an averaage score of 26.60. Blondes have a total score of 570 and an average score of 25.90.
Non-blondes have a total score of 1124 and an average score of 32.11.

All of which proves conclusively that I have way too much time on my hands. And probably watch too much TV. And since I've probably made an arithmetic error somewhere above, that I was just wasting my time to begin with. But then again, I knew that anyway.

Finding a scientific theory of creation is a bit like parsing /dev/null.

--Daniel Harper

(change terra to earth for email)

Visages of science?

Neat cartoon from X-overboard.

Full image can be found here.

I should have something more substantial later today.

19 May 2006

New version of vim

I've been reading through the last week's Slashdot postings for the last day or so, and caught a bit of news that I missed the first time around: a new version of vim has been released.

In honor of this auspicious event, I'm using vim to generate this very blog entry. I'm usually a pico or emacs user, but Beth loves her some vim, so I figure it's the least I can do to try to use it every now and then.

I'm not using the newest version, but it's not really a bad editor.

More later today.

end dammit

18 May 2006

Math Placement Exam

So I took my Math Placement Test today...

Let me back up. I got a Precalculus book from the Huntsville Public Library two weeks ago, and I've spent the time since then studying and refreshing my memory off and on, trying to place into MA171, Calculus A. I had originally scheduled the exam for Tuesday, May 16 at 9:00, but decided I needed an extra day or two of cramming, so I rescheduled for the 1:00 exam today.

So I spent the morning looking over the math book, taking breaks for lunch and a bit of time to relax and read a few blogs, and around 12:15 or so I came back upstairs to chat with Beth for a minute. We chatted for a bit, and around 12:30 I told her I needed to go throw some shoes on and get to campus, which is about ten or fifteen minutes' drive from here.

No sooner had I gotten offline that I realized: I've got to take a shit. Badly.

So I go take care of business, moving as fast as I can. I look at my watch, and oh shit, I'm going to be late. Finishing quickly, I run downstairs and look into my school backpack for a couple of pencils that should have been there.

But they're not.

I do have a few unsharpened pencils, though, so I grab two of them and run back upstairs to sharpen them at Beth's drawing table (ask to see some of her drawings sometime). With two freshly-sharpened pencils, and with twelve minutes until one, I run back downstairs, close and lock the door, and walk quickly to my car. So long as traffic isn't too heavy I should be able to make it, I thought.

So I'm driving down Sparkman drive trying to get to the Administrative Science building (where Testing Services is located) and I'm at a red light over at Bradford drive. Not a problem, I think, as I turn right onto Bradford and slide into the back parking lot near Morton Hall. (Map here; I was near point 2 on the map, and the Admin Science building is point 12.) Which necessitated walking across the little wooded area behind the CCRH, and under normal circumstances wouldn't be a problem.

Except by this point I've got maybe four minutes to get to the testing office, and I really don't want to be late.

So I run. Here's the problem -- there was some sort of event going on on campus today (looked like some sort of Jazz Festival) which meant I had to run through a fairly crowded quad. And considering that I was wearing my normal attire of blue jeans and a button-up casual shirt with the tails hanging out, and carrying my cell in my hand since it wouldn't fit in my pocket, I must have made a strange sight.

I ran through the crowd and made it there as fast as I could, walked quickly up to the second floor, and collapsed into the Testing Services office. Right at 1:00. Obviously flushed, exhausted.

“Sorry I'm late. Ran across campus. Got here as soon as I could.”
“Yeah, obviously,” they said, referring to my appearance. “We're still waiting on someone else, so go have a seat in the little nook and we'll see you in a minute.”

I thanked them, got a drink of water at the water fountain, and sat down in what ordinarily would have been an uncomfortable chair, but under the circumstances was quite nice. This was the moment when I realized just how out-of-shape I am, as I couldn't even run that far without being totally out-of-breath.

After a couple of minutes a young lady came to get me, got some information from me, and led me in to take the test. After checking my ID and reading me some instructions, she let me sit down at a computer terminal to take the placement test.

Turns out it was 20 multiple choice questions that ranged in difficulty. A few were fairly easy, dealing with simple slopes of lines and such, while others required a factorization of a polynomial, or required me to add two polynomial fractions together, with different denominators. Nothing too difficult, but a lot of grunt work (especially since calculators were verboten).

I spent maybe forty-five minutes on the exam, more than half of it on five questions or so, and did the best I could. I needed a 95 out of 120 to place into Calculus A, and ended up getting an 89. Which means I was only one question or so away from getting where I wanted.


I came home, exhausted and sore in my legs, and chatted with Beth over ICQ for a bit. I've made an appointment with the College of Science adviser for next Wednesday at 2:00, and we'll discuss my options. I can theoretically take the placement test again, but I'm not sure if that's the wisest choice. By my schedule, it'd be best if I could take Cal A in the fall, but I'm thinking that my GPA might be helped by retaking Precal. I'd also like to see if the adviser can let me take Cal A in the fall anyway, despite being a question or so away from placement at that level.

I guess we'll see on Wednesday.

Over the Hedge

Look, science and beer!

Thanks, Beth, for the link.

More later.

Update: Beth just looked at this post and made me look at the strip again -- turns out the squirrel is drinking root beer, not just beer. I submit that it's because of the need for a family strip not to be seen as promoting alcoholism in rodents that the word "root" is included.

Besides, his cute little paw is covering up most of the word "root" in the can he's holding, so I don't think it's much of a slight on me that I didn't notice it to begin with.

17 May 2006

Perspectives -- a photo blog entry

Down in Executive Plaza, where Beth used to work there's this bucolic little pond with some nice trees and such surrounding it. It's not much, but it's pretty.


So Beth and I like to wander around there and take walks around the path from time to time, and also, well... for these:

That's right. Turtles. Some of them even snapping turtles. How cool is that?

As a biology major, especially one who has spent so much time reading popular science books outside of class, it's pretty clear to me that we humans, nay, even we Eukaryotes are really only a tiny little subset of the entire diversity of life, and that multicellular organisms like you and I are really not enormously more complex (and are only questionably more "advanced") than even simple organisms like a Euglena or a paramecium.

But still... looking at the size of these critters really aids the perspective a bit. I know it's hard to see from the photos, but these organisms are much larger than the other creatures in the pond, at least five times larger than most of the fish that were were feeding before we found the turtles.

And I know it's not exactly clear from these photos, but some of these guys have long curved sharp claws, and although I know intellectually that such creatures tend to be highly non-aggressive when in the water, it's emotionally a bit scary to consider being an organism fighting with these turtles for food.

And sure, I'm five or ten times heavier than even the heaviest of these guys, and my species is much more of a threat to them than they could ever be to me, but there's something about seeing such a tiny pond support and ecosystem that can support such fascinating creatures that just inspires a bit of awe.

Microbes and antibiotic resistance are all well and good, subtle and wonderful biochemical adaptations are one thing, but actually looking at nature, at observing the sheer size of some of these things really reminds you where all of this evolution business can lead.

It's a cliche, but I reminded from this quote from Darwin, from the end 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.

It's beautiful that the turtles I linked to above, and the organism that generated this:

and the love of my life:

can all exist not only within the same speck of the Earth, but at the same time, and produced by the exact same evolutionary process that has spent billions of years working its nearly-magical influence.

Creationists live in such a dull, small world in comparison to the one I live in.