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.

Completely Hypothetical

Let's just say, and believe me, this is a hypothetical, that your wonderfully beautiful fiancee comes home after work and a bit of shopping. Let's just say.

And let's just say that instead of going straight for a quick dinner, maybe you and your wonderful woman are feeling a bit frisky, and go upstairs for a nice bit of, how shall we say, discreetly adult activities.

And let's just say that at the end of such activities, when you're feeling sweaty and tired in that good way, and have her wonderful taste in your mouth and the scent of her hair in your nose, and you're feeling all is right with the universe around you because you just got some really nice relaxing sex from the woman you love, what do you want to drink with dinner afterwards?

Why, Stone Ruination IPA, of course.

Appearance: 4.5
Smell: 4.5
Taste: 4.5
Mouthfeel: 4.5
Drinkability: 4.5

Purchased at Strong Bros. Liquor Store, Fayetteville, TN.

A: Pours an orange-yellow body, thick white head. Quite clear, but slight haziness towards bottom.

S: Strong crisp hops in nose, slight grapefruit.

T: Grapefruit flavor very prominent, with very strong hop profile. Clear, crisp, invigorating hops.

M: Hops are actually painful to the palate, but in a good way. Beer foams nicely and tickles the tongue.

D: Goes down clean and with no alcohol bite. Miles better than regular Stone IPA.

Went perfectly with a nice salad with blue cheese dressing and some leftover pasta. A really nice way to end an afternoon. Hypothetically, of course.

16 May 2006


You know, it's funny how those who read a lot just never seem to get "caught up". I've got books that have been literally sitting on a shelf (or on my desk) for years that I haven't read yet, or I started but never finished, simply because other books came first, or because I had other responsibilities that I had to take care of. The blogs I visit, and the websites I frequent daily are sort of the same way -- back when I was working, I'd have to spend most of my off days catching up, because I just never seemed to have enough hours to absorb all the information I wanted to be able to absorb.

But then the news of my impending unemployment came up, and I thought, "Well, finally, I'll have enough time to read all those blogs and websites every day," and for a week or so it was true. But it's funny the way that the amount of work (even if it's "for-fun" work like reading cool blogs) tends to expand to fit the amount of time you have, and now I've finished several library books but have gotten right back to where I was before with my blog-and-website reading: at least three or four days behind.

All of which is just a longwinded way of point out this link, which is an interview on Working For Change with Al Gore. Yes, that Al Gore -- he's got a sort of "concert movie" coming out soon, and he's showing signs of real leadership and integrity that I only wish he'd shown six years ago. When you have a politician talking about Cellulosic ethanol, you know that politician is worth hearing out, even if you disagree with most or all of his policies.

Road Trip

Over at the FTH Forum markb mentioned that Stone Ruination IPA was available at Strong Bros. in Fayetteville. So of course I had to take the forty-five minute drive (one way) to get a few bottles, even though I was just at Strong Bros. for some Belgians a couple of weekends ago.

(Don't feel bad for me. I've got one in the fridge right now and I'm planning on making it my after-dinner beer tonight.)

In other news, I found a funny link detailing a variety of religious terms in a humorous (but still largely accurate) way while readng ScienceBlogs this morning. I'm also thinking of joining The UAH Fitness Center -- it'll only cost me $16.00 a month for the next semester, and hopefully it'll help me lose a bit of this beer gut. (I've had the stomach for longer than I've been drinking beer, but "beer gut" sounds so much more masculine than "hershey's kisses belly".)

Tomorrow I take the cats to the vet, what fun! My math placement test I got moved to Thursday, so tomorrow and Thursday morning will be cram days for me.

Tomorrow's blogging: turtles. I'll just leave it at that.

15 May 2006


Beth and I had lunch today at Arby's and she told me that she had read my post from yesterday. Being a software engineer, she had some ideas for the half-assed thoughts that I had put into my Computer Science section. She suggested Dijkstra and Babbage & Lovelace as co-equal to Turing and von Neumann, and I definitely agree.

That means I have to make a separate category for the mathematicians. I'll keep Euler and Riemann, and throw in Euclid and Leibniz (see, he gets billing as well as Newton) in for good measure.

Everybody happy now?

In other news, I just finished off some Papa John's pizza that we ordered Friday night when we were too tired to cook, and few things go better with Pizza than a Paulaner Hefe-Weizen. Cool bottle, too.

14 May 2006

Mount Rushmore of Science?

Ever wake up way too early on a Sunday morning (yeah, I'm calling my mom in a little bit) and realize that you can't get back to sleep? For me, it generally happens because I start thinking about something I read the other day and, as long as my mind is churning, I'm not going to be able to sleep.

So, the other day I read a blog post here at Uncertain Principles that was discussing a theoretical "Mount Rushmore of Science", i.e. the four scientists who deserve to have their faces emblazoned on a huge rock for their contributions to scientific knowledge.

The original post postulated that Newton, Einstein, and Darwin were shoo-ins, and asked for the fourth face to go along. Personally, I think that given the first three, the only other person who deserves to be named along with them was Mendeleev (and commented to that effect), but over the last few days I've become more and more dissatisfied with the concept. There are just so many scientists that did so much important work, that to claim that the whole of science is in some way honored along with those four seems shortsighted.

Personally, I figure that if we're going to do it, we should break down our Mount Rushmore by category, picking four scientists from each major discipline of science. So I'm going to name my picks for Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Medicine, and Physics, because that was what I was thinking about this morning.

Astronomy: This is a tough one, since so many great astronomers only did work on a very tiny slice of the field, or only made one big discovery in their lifetime. I'd argue that Galileo and Kepler are shoo-ins, with Hubble being a sort of modern equivalent in terms of influence, but who gets the fourth spot? Copernicus is an obvious answer, but would mean that Hubble was the only scientist in modern history, which seems wrong. On a personal level I'd like to include William Herschel (discovered Uranus, first planetary to be discovered in historical times) but he's a bit obscure. Edmund Halley is probably the best person for the fourth position, just because of name recognition. I'd like to name an astrophysicist, but the only one that really comes to mind is Chandrasekhar, and he seems a bit too "recent" for inclusion on this kind of list. I could be argued out of it, but my list would be Galileo, Kepler, Halley, and Hubble.

Biology: A little easier than astronomy. Linnaeus, Mendel, and Darwin are the Big Three here, with the fourth spot again being a difficult fit. Aristotle could be placed here through his early work in taxonomy, but given the prescientific and nonempirical nature of his work, I don't like that option. A very recent popular figure might be Stephen J. Gould, but he's more of a popularizer than a scientist -- punctuated equilibrium's an important concept, but not so important as to be placed with the others. No, I think I'd include Theodosius Dobzhansky, whose work on the Modern Synthesis put the final nails in the coffin for the objections to the Theory of Evolution.

Chemistry: I'm going to be a bit controversial here. Dalton and Mendeleev certainly deserve admission, but the other two spots are hard to fill. Most would consider him more of a physicist, but I like Neils Bohr for the third spot, due to his work generating the mostly-accurate model of atomic structure that paved the way for the electron cloud model. Linus Pauling is my pick for the fourth spot, due to the important work he did in basically founding modern biochemistry.

Medicine:: You were wondering where Pasteur was in the biology section? This was the ace up my sleeve -- now I can put Pasteur and Watson & Crick (two heads taking the place of one discovery) in their proper place. Da Vinci also deserves placement here through his early work on human anatomy, and Edward Jenner gets my fourth spot, for his work on the very first vaccine, giving cowpox to innoculate against smallpox.

Physics: Still a crowded field. Newton and Einstein are obvious choices. I'd put Maxwell, who worked out the equations governing electromagnetic fields, on the list, but who's a good fourth? On a whim, I'd put Heisenburg on the giant rock, because his Uncertainty Principle paved the way for modern quantum mechanics.

What, no category for Computer Science? Well, maybe we could add a special category for Mathematicians and Computer Scientists, by that standard Euler, Riemann, Turing, and von Neumann are the four most deserving.

I'd also like to add a quick mention of those scientists who, for whatever reason, never really got the credit they deserved for their discoveries.

Henry Moseley was a contemporary of Niels Bohr and the Curies (aside: how did I forget Madame Curie? I still like Heisenberg on the physics Rushmore, but I could be convinced that Marie Curie should take the honors instead) who did important work on the atomic nucleus that paved the way for atomic energy. He was killed fighting in WWI, else he certainly would have won a Nobel Prize for his efforts. Nearly forgotten today.

Robert Oppenheimer is well-remembered today for his work managing the atomic bomb project, but he too never received the Nobel Prize. Most historians of science today believe that he would have won one for his work on the theory of black holes, had he only lived long enough to see his theories confirmed by actual observations of the stellar objects.

Rosalind Franklin. Regardless of how one feels about her real input into the structure of DNA, or how Crick handled the whole affair, I think it's clear that she deserves place on this list of scientists who drew the short stick when it comes to recognition. Never won a Nobel, most probably because she was dead by the time the awards to Watson and Crick were given. Would she have been included in the Prize had she lived? I'd like to think so, but obviously politics played a cruel hand here.

Alfred Russell Wallace was a contemporary of Darwin, who basically independently worked out the Theory of Evolution at around the same time Darwin did. For whatever reason, Wallace deferred to Darwin's recognition and ended up being known to history primarily as "Darwin's Bulldog", steadfastly defending the Theory of Evolution from its critics in the early days. For my money, though, he deserves equal credit with Darwin for the discovery, and that places him as one of those on my list of "shoulda-beens".

Okay. Time to call my Mom now. Maybe get a bit of shuteye before I have to leave.

12 May 2006

New Beers!

And to think I didn't think I'd have anything to blog about today.

Stopped by Great Spirits after seeing Beth this afternoon, was planning to get some Paulaner or Franziskaner Hefeweizen. Instead, what do I see but three new beers on their display table, Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Harpoon Summer Beer, and Harpoon IPA. I've had the UFO Hefeweizen (blech) but I've heard good things about the IPA, and wanted to try the Summer Beer, so I got those two. I'm just a sucker for new beer, I guess.

And then I came home and saw this link over on Pharyngula. Funny for anyone who's ever had to write a lab report.

11 May 2006

Important News

Upon my urgings, Beth has just started up a new blog detailing her love of all things food-and-wine related. I kept trying to talk about vibrators, lube, and boobies, but no....

Hopefully she'll update her blog more regularly than I update mine. I've added her to the list of links of the left, mainly because I love her more than life itself.

I'm a moron

So, I finally decided to just upload a damn picture and stick it up for my profile, and did so. Managed to get the whole thing formatted properly and all (just used the GIMP, not as nice as Photoshop, but at least it's free) and even got my new BA Profile pic up, but couldn't manage to make the whole Blogger thing work.

Dammit. So I spent a little time wandering around the help files, trying to figure out why my profile wouldn't show my picture, basically being an idiot, when I did what no self-respecting man should ever do.

I asked my fiancee for help.

Y'see, we often hang out and chat over ICQ during the day when I'm home and she's at work. Gives us both a nice litle pick-me-up to chat, share links, whatever during the day. So I shot over a polite request for help (phrased something like, "Oh please oh please I'll do anything you want just please help me solve my piddlin' little computer problem....") and after giving her my username and password, she said to give her a few minutes.

So I wandered back over to ScienceBlogs for a bit and scanned some more of the Queen of Ass, just minding my own business, when she suddenly says:

"Clear your cache. LOL."

So I opened up the Opera preferences, cleared my cache, and what-do-you-know? the damn thing works.

I'm officially going to have to hang up my geek cred card for good, now.

10 May 2006

Interesting discussion

I've got a bit of an argument over political philosophy going on over in the "Everything Not Beer" section of the FTH Forums. Read the argument here.

In the last week, I've read Only a Trillion, View From a Height, Robot Dreams, and Puzzles of the Black Widowers, all by Isaac Asimov. I'm currently working on The Mask of Nostradamus by James Randi and the first in the Baroque Cycle, Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

I've got some new pictures of myself. I'll put one up on the profile today or tomorrow.

09 May 2006

Wha, wha, whaa?*

*with apologies to Jon Stewart.

I didn't know that Tom Tomorrow would use the word "shit". Fascinating, the coarsening of our culture, isn't it?

I've been chilling out and relaxing the last couple of days, trying to relax before summer classes start and reading a bunch of Asimov. I'll have more in-depth posts in a day or two.

08 May 2006

When the weekend ends....

I ended up getting an A in that Biology class after all. One down, thirty-ish to go!

We didn't get to go to the graduation on Saturday, due to extenuating circumstances with the friend we were going to ride with. Hopefully I'll get to go down and see the friend who graduated in the next couple of weeks. I did get to call him on his cell before his graduation, and congratulated him about seventy times.

Last night we had planned to invite some of our other friends over for steaks and salad, but it turned out that one of their relatives had been in a car accident, and they weren't even in town for it. So after we cleaned up the apartment and bought a lot of good food (I even drove to Fayetteville to get some Belgian beers to share) we ended up sans company. We cooked the steaks for ourselves, anyway, and I had an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout while grilling and a Terrapin Wake-and-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout with the meal. Both great beers.

Beth had set up some candles so we could have a somewhat romantic meal by candlelight, and had used some Folgers coffee grounds as filler for two of the candleholders in the place of sand. It gave a nice appearance, but as the candle burned down, it actually set the coffee grounds on fire, creating a fair amount of smoke. Interestingly, it created a nice aroma and melted the grounds into hard "chunks" of material.

Curious, after cleaning up from dinner I took the two candleholders outside, laid some aluminum foil on top of the grill, spread the grounds over the foil, and attempted to light the grounds to see what would happen. At first the grounds wouldn't light, but a bit of lighter fluid gave us a nice blue flame -- lots of smoke, and a nice blue flame. While the coffee grounds smell nice when they merely singe and melt, the actual burning is not pleasant, and I wouldn't recommend it. Oh, well, one idea down the tubes.

I created an AIM account for myself (danielharper2006) in addition to my ICQ account (313312493) so I could chat with my mom when she's on AOL. We had a nice pleasant chat Saturday morning, before my day had really started but after she had already run two loads of laundry, had a shower, and helped take care of the baby. Nothing like talking with my mother to make me feel like a layabout, but I love her anyway.

I'm going to try to get a new photo of myself and post it in my profile in the next few days. I've recently shaved, after having been bearded for several years, and think it might be nice to show my face to the world for a change. I promise I won't be like this guy, though.

06 May 2006

Hear hear!

Very short post today. Saw this on ScienceBlogs, and agree wholeheartedly with it.

What invention of the last 100 years would we be better off without?

Going to a friend's college graduation today, so this is likely all I'm going to do computer-wise. Hopefully more tomorrow.

05 May 2006

Tidbits for Cinco de Mayo

Took Beth out to lunch today to our favorite Mexican place, Guadalajara on South Parkway. We got our usual meals, she had a margarita, I had a Bud Light. Yeah, I know, but somehow Mexican food and crappy beer kinda go together.

Afterwards I stopped by Great Spirits and, lo and behold, they had finally gotten some more Rogue Dead Guy in stock. Bought a sixer and a single I haven't had before.

Then I went to UAH campus and signed up for the math placement test. I'm studying this week, so I arranged to be there at 9:30 AM on May 16th. Hopefully I can place into Calculus, despite my six-year absence from any math classes.

Also stopped by the UAH library to look up some more information on amylase, which was unfortunately a bust. I did find several Isaac Asimov essay collections I haven't read, though, so the trip wasn't a total loss.

I'm going to spent the time until Beth comes home drinking a Dead Guy and reading Asimov. Not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon, if you can get away with it.

04 May 2006


Over at Dispatches From the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton has had several posts (see here, here, and here) that deal in whole or in part with libertarian political philosophy. As a teenager, I felt strongly that libertarian philosophy was the most self-consistent and logical political stance one could take, and that as such it should be the political philosophy of choice for any reasoning person (in other words, I was caught up in the works of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein), but as I have gotten older I have moved further away from such a position.

Now, this is no way invalidates the concept of self-consistency or logic in judging the worth of political theory, not in the slightest. Indeed, I feel that many of the mistakes that our government makes (particularly under the oh-so-inspired leadership of Shrub) could be remedied --or at least mediated-- by properly involving a bit more logic and self-consistency. However, I feel that many of the claims of libertarian philosophy are based more on a Socratic or more properly Scholastic methodology instead of an empical one.

By a Scholastic methodology, determining truth or falsity of a particular statement (in modern-day logical terms) is to be done by examining a set series of writings, such as the works of Aristotle, and simply uncoverng hidden truths about the subject being studied through introspection and interpretation of the ancient text. Likewise, as Michael Shermer so ably demonstrated here, many of the modern-day libertarian thinkers (who oh-so-ironically call themselves Objectivists) take exactly this approach to the works of Ayn Rand and other (very few!) libertarian thinkers. A strange phenomenon indeed for a group that insists on its own independent thought and individual reasoning.

It is actually perhaps a bit unfair to compare all libertarian thinkers with the cult-like mentality exposed by Shermer -- after all Brayton himself is by no means beholden to the texts of Rand, and neither are those at The Cato Institute. However, such cult-like activity by those extreme libertarians holding to the Holy Texts of Ayn Rand are, I feel, a fairly reasonable symptom of the thought of other libertarians who are so enraptured in their own political philosophy that they lose touch with reality.

An example, not from Brayton, but from a commenter on one of the entries above.
Not only would I legalize drugs like cocaine, but I would also legalize all prescription drugs. At the same time, I would make the FDA approval process voluntary. If a pharma company decides to obtain FDA approval, it would receive qualified immunity from product liability suits. Fraud/failure to disclose during the approval process would of course, negate any immunity.

The government simply should not have the right to tell me what I can legally ingest. If I am suffering from MS and I find that Tysarbi (or marijuana or Vioxx or whatever) works for me, I should be able to use it. Banning a drug because of rare, fatal side effects is not a choice for the government. I should be able to make that risk assessment myself.

Now, of course, I agree that the "War-on-Drugs" is a terrible policy debacle that should be ended, and I am generally in support of allowing people to make up their own minds. But gutting the FDA (or at least declawing it)? It sounds good on paper, but as other commenters in the thread demonstrate, such an idea really leads us back to something like the olden days of snake-oil salesmen, in that medical doctors suddenly have no independent body doing research into a drug's efficacy for them. In short, consumers get screwed because large-scale organizations (namely, pharmaceutical corporations) have the money and power to keep truth out of the hands of ordinary individuals, and even have the civil right to not have to share information.

One could possibly get around this with independent accrediting bodies for pharmaceuticals, but don't we then run into the problem of collusion amongst the accrediting agencies and the manufacturers of drugs?

I think that an objective, empirical view of these matters indicates that there are certain functions (namely, I would argue, regulation, healthcare, and education, among others) that corporations simply don't do well, due to the difficulty in maintaining profit margins in these areas. I hate paying taxes as much as the next guy, but for those taxes the government provides me with safety, with infrastructure, with regulation insuring the meat I buy, the drugs I take, the air I breathe, et cetera will be clean and safe to use, and many other functions.

I say let all the real hard-core libertarians go set up shop in the newly-unoccupied areas of Iraq or Afghanistan and set up Libertopia over there. When I've seen it work on a non-trivial level, I'd be happy to try to enact reforms over here. Until then, some "big government" regulatory and functional bodies are necessary.

03 May 2006

Why I'd Make a Terrible Father

As I mentioned earlier, Beth and I spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with my mother and my sister, who has a now-six-month old baby (cute pictures here) named Camden, who is cute and adorable and endlessly watchable even when he's not feeling well due to tubes having been put in his ears, as was the case over the weekend. Now, I can't say I'm overly fond of children in general, having a general preference for the intellectual and social world of adults, but Camden's a cute kid, and I can certainly imagine feeling more love for the little brats when (or if) I ever have one of my own.

So anyway, Camden was lying on the floor Saturday night kicking at one of his toys, when a bit of drool escaped from the side of his mouth. Being the good uncle (and having a napkin handy) I wiped the fluid from the side of his mouth, cleaned his face in general, then started thinking:

I wonder when babies start to produce amylase?

A bit of explanation is at hand. Enzymes are macromolecules (proteins, actually) that act as catalysts to allow high-energy chemical reactions to take place in relatively low-energy regions, such as the human body. For instance, the body "burns" sugars in the muscles through the breaking off of phosphate groups from ATP molecules -- an enzyme binds to the phosphate group and removes it with what's known as a dehydration reaction to "burn" the molecule, while in ordinary circumstances the energy required to burn off that bit of energy would require temperatures far in excess of what the human body could stand. Enzymes are not magical chemicals -- far from it -- but they are one of the things that make life fairly unique in the universe, and much of the study of biochemistry is really the study of enzymes.

Amylase is an enzyme found in saliva (and in the pancreas, but that's another issue) that binds with certain chemical bonds in starches and breaks them down into molecules that are usable in the production of energy and proteins by the organism. (It is of course aided by digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines, but that's a bit out of field here.) In my Intro to Biology course at UAH, one of our labs involved placing ground up cereal grains into a solution of water and amylase, and oberving the carbon dioxide produced by enzymmatic action. In the lab, we used professionally-obtained (or perhaps synthesized) amylase, but in theory could have simply used our own saliva to break down the cereal, although saliva contains other enzymes as well.

My curiosity, then, was at what age amylase was produced by the human body, in particular by the salivary glands. I was struck by the incredible urge to collect a few milliliters of Camden's saliva (not difficult, I assume, given the production of fluids by babies) and an equal amount of my own, mix each with some cereal or some other starch (like crackers) and place them both next to a control and a timer. And I might have done exactly that, except that the child's mother and grandmother were sitting right there playing with their baby and otherwise being perfectly normal, well-adjusted individuals, and might have taken offense to my doing strange experiments with their child's saliva.

How easy would it be to imagine me using one of my own children as a little walking, talking microbiology lab, blithely ignoring their needs so that I could satiate my own curiosity regarding their development in a hands-on, somewhat-controlled way? I have no doubt that I'll soon end up living up to the self-given moniker "Weird Uncle Daniel" anytime now.

01 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...)

And we thought Texas was bad

Oh, dear God. Wasn't Roy Moore enough for my poor state?

Beth sent me this link from one of the local news station websites this morning. At least the local Democratic Party isn't supporting his nomination.

He's behind in the polls, but as the wag says, is that because he's a holocaust-denier, or because he's an atheist?

Our tax dollars at work, and a link or two.

Over the weekend I went to visit my family down in Millbrook, which took me out of my comfortable little cocoon here long enough to give me some interesting stuff to talk about. I'll be covering it over the next couple of days.

On the drive back, a bit south of Birmingham, Beth and I witnessed a single-car accident. I was on the phone with UncleFlip, arranging a meeting place so he could give me the two bottles of Dark Lord Imperial Stout when out of the corner of my eye I some movement in my rearview mirror. The car in the lane beside me smashed into the metal divider that separated the lanes of traffic on I-65, spun around 360 degrees, and made a huge squealing noise and kicked up a lot of dust. Basically smashing in the entire front end of the vehicle at some 65-70 miles per hour.

"Oh, shit," I said, still on the phone with Flip.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'll call you back."

Utterly calm and collected, I pulled off on the side of the road, hung up with flip, and dialed 911. After a moment with a very professional emergency operator (the kind I hope I'd get to speak to if I were ever in a danger spot), Beth and I got out my Mazda to walk back and see if there was anything we could do. We'd moved ahead of the other vehicle by maybe five hundred feet, and trudging back there through the weeds on the side of the interstate was fairly rough going, but not too bad. Still, by the time we got to the other vehicle (some sort of white or silver sedan), a fire engine and a local cop were pulling up to the scene.

We happened to have pulled off onto the other side of the interstate, so the cop yelled to us, "Are you involved?" as he walked up.

"No, we just called it in."

He made a hand motion to stay back and checked on the occupant of the vehicle. A youngish foreign girl who couldn't have been more than twenty or so, she seemed unharmed by the incident and was stepping out of the car when the cop got there.

After a few minutes of watching (traffic was getting backed up, as well) and yelling to no less than two firefighters that we weren't involved, that we just called it in, the cop crossed the street (carefully, mind you) and asked me what I saw. I told him that I had seen the car hit the rail in my rearview mirror and had called in the accident. He thanked me and told me to be on my way.

I was amazed at the speed at which it happened. No less than ten minutes after witnessing the accident, we were back in our car and on the way. And then my hands started shaking a bit, likely from the adrenaline rush. The rest of the three-hour drive to Huntsville was a bit rough, not least because a bit later it started raining, and I was feeling just a bit twitchy.

Interesting how I was utterly calm at first, and only began to stress out over it later. Selective advantage or neutral drift I can't say, but obviously the adrenaline system has its quirks.

And, on a completely different note:

This is a link to Stephen Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner on Saturday. I'm a huge fan of The Colbert Report, and this is some really good material from him.

Zazzafooky is a personal blog that I'm working through the archives of. Heartfelt oddities from an often humorous but often painful personal perspective of an Angeleno. It's interesting stuff.