Being a Science Celebrity is Tough

(Via XKCD)


I turned 30 today and decided it was time to become an aristocrat. My full title is:

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
The Very Reverend Cameron the Cosmopolitan of Chignall Duntisbourne
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

(Via Pharyngula)


Celebrating Christmas

Not being a Christian I sometimes feel guilty about celebrating Christmas. I love the holiday cheer, Santa Clause, evergreen trees in your living room, and the overall sense of warmth and compassion that most people exude. Turns out, I've been worrying unnecessarily. Massimo Pigliucci has straightened me out. There are many pre-Christian traditions that are a cause for celebration. To find out what they are, you'll have to read his blog.


Uh Oh

Good thing I'm also an Irish citizen in case I get deported for lacking patriotism. What do you rate?

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 100%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

(Via Sandwalk)



Nintendo has put together a six-part video chronicling the history of Zelda. I don't think I've played the game since the original Nintendo, but watching the video brought back a lot of good memories. Makes me wish I'd kept my Nintendo so I could play again for old times sake. Have a look if you're feeling nostalgic. I've embedded Part 1 below.


NSTA Bought By Big Oil?

I learned today that the National Science Teachers Association, of whom I'm a member, recently turned down 50,000 free copies of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Their reason was simple: they didn't want to risk the millions of dollars they get from Exxon-Mobil or the American Petroleum Institute. Doesn't exactly make me proud to be a member. I wrote them a letter today and if you would like to send them a comment, go here.


My Magnet Is Bigger Than Yours

Sweet photo. This superconducting magnet is being used by the Large Hadron Collider, which is set to start operating next year.


Future Science

Curious as to where science will go in the next 50 years? The magazine New Scientists asked 70 of the world's leading scientists what they thought. You can find their answers here.

(Via Cosmic Variance)



There's been a lot of stories about the Neadertal genome lately, due to a couple of papers in Science and Nature. If you'd like a clearer understanding of what is being reported. check out John Hawk's FAQ. You can't get a much better explanation.


Sea Urchins

The genome of a sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) was published this week in the journal Science. While the papers themselves are subscription only, there is a really cool interactive poster that explains the significance of these studies, including video of the researchers and their explanations. Check it out here.


What Do You Know?

US News & World Report has a quiz to see if you retained anything from your education. Once you've finished taking it, you can find the answers here.


Reality in Iraq

Brad DeLong points to an excellent article in Newsweek concerning present conditions in Iraq and the numerous problems and obstacles the U.S faces in achieving anything over there. Many will probably complain that the media is again focusing on the negative while ignoring the positive. Perhaps. But ignoring the serious problems will not make them go away. A taste:

From the beginning of the war, the Bush administration has not wanted to think of Iraq in these sectarian terms, preferring instead to believe the country was the place it hoped it would be—united, secular, harmonious, freedom-loving. As a result, Washington massively underestimated the challenge it faced. By unseating Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy, the United States introduced Shia-majority rule to Iraq. It also disbanded the Army, with its largely Sunni officer corps, fired 50,000 mostly Sunni bureaucrats and shut down dozens of state-owned factories (many run by Sunnis). In effect, the United States destroyed both the old Iraqi nation and the old Iraqi state. And yet it had no plan, people or resources to fill the void left behind.

Call for Change

Call for Change is a chance for you to help reach out to voters about this year's election. You can do it from your home phone or computer and it is relatively straight forward. A little bit can go a long way.

Call For Change


Coral Catastrophe

From CNN:

Researchers fear more than half the world's coral reefs could die in less than 25 years and say global warming may at least partly to blame.

Sea temperatures are rising, weakening the reefs' resistance to increased pollutants, such as runoff from construction sites and toxins from boat paints. The fragile reefs are hosts to countless marine plants and animals.

"Think of it as a high school chemistry class," said Billy Causey, the Caribbean and Gulf Mexico director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"You mix some chemicals together and nothing happens. You crank up the Bunsen burner and all of a sudden things start bubbling around. That's what's happening. That global Bunsen burner is cranking up."

Causey was one of some 200 private and government researchers from the Caribbean, Florida and U.S. Pacific islands who gathered in St. Thomas for a meeting of the NOAA's U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

Last year's coral loss in the Caribbean waters supports predictions that 60 percent of the world's coral could die within a quarter century, said Tyler Smith of the University of the Virgin Islands.

"Given current rates of degradation of reef habitats, this is a plausible prediction," Smith said.

More than 47 percent of the coral in underwater study sites covering 31 acres around the U.S. Virgin Islands died after sea temperatures exceeded the norm for three months in 2005, said Jeff Miller, a scientist with the Virgin Islands National Park.

The unusual warm water can stress coral, causing it to lose its pigment and making it more vulnerable to disease.

This year, Caribbean coral narrowly avoided another widespread episode of bleaching when sea temperatures briefly surpassed levels considered healthy for reefs.

Up to 30 percent of the world's coral reefs have died in the last 50 years, and another 30 percent are severely damaged, said Smith, who studies coral health in the U.S. Virgin Islands and collaborates with researchers globally.

"U.S. Virgin Islands coral today is likely at its lowest levels in recorded history," Smith said.

The researchers said global warming was a potential cause of the abnormally high sea temperatures but was not the only suspect in the reefs' demise.

What causes disease in coral can be hard to pinpoint and could be a combination of things. Other threats include silt runoff from construction sites, which prevents the coral from getting enough sunlight, and a record increase in fleshy, green algae, which competes with coral for sunlight.

"Climate change is an important factor that is influencing coral reefs worldwide," said Mark Eakin, director of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch. "It adds to the other problems that we are having."



I won my first poker tournament over the weekend. Twelve players (a group of friends) with a five dollar buy-in. Nothing spectacular, although it was a lot of fun. My wife got second, which was cool. If you want to read a good account of some really high stakes poker, go here. Andy Beal and Phil Ivey had quite a showdown a few months ago.



Ed Brayton points to a Yahoo News article where General Peter Pace says that Rumsfeld receives his insights from God himself. Considering Rumsfeld's crappy track record on pretty much everything he has done, I'd say the message is getting garbled somewhere. It also makes me much less confident in Peter Pace.


Don't Start Worrying...Yet

This is bound to stir up some controversy. A professor at the University of Washington, Eric Cheney, claims the idea that we are running out of oil is one of the seven myths concerning resource geology. Why?

Changing economics, technological advances and efforts such as recycling and substitution make the world's mineral resources virtually infinite, said Cheney, a UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences. For instance, oil deposits unreachable 40 years ago can be tapped today using improved technology, and oil once too costly to extract from tar sands, organic matter or coal is now worth manufacturing.
The article goes on to explain some of his other thoughts on the matter. Included are the other six myths:

  • Only basic extraction and processing costs affect economic geology. That fails to account for such costs as exploration, transportation, taxes and societal and environmental programs.
  • Production always damages the environment. Accidents do happen, Cheney said, but much of the perception is based on problems of the past and don't reflect current reality. "It's inevitable that there are going to be oil spills, just like tere are traffic accidents on the freeway," he said. "We hope we can manage them, but nothing is risk free."
  • Mineral deposits are excessively profitable. Despite widely reported huge oil company profits in the last year, Cheney notes that as a percentage of company revenues oil profits lag far behind those of some major software and banking companies.
  • Transportation costs are trivial. In fact, the retail cost of building materials such as sand and gravel are largely driven by the cost of moving them from one place to another, particularly in crowded urban areas. Moving quarries and pits farther away from where people live only increases those costs.
  • Ore deposits are uniform. While a valued ore can be found in a large continuous deposit, often it is mixed with other kinds of minerals and extraction becomes more expensive.
  • Resources are randomly distributed and so, if human population encroaches, a mine or quarry should simply be able to relocate.


A Round of Evolution for Everyone

One of my favorite science writers, Carl Zimmer, has a couple of great new articles available. One, found on his blog, explores what mycologists are starting to discover about the evolutionary history of fungi. Fungi have to be some of the weirdest organisms on the planet and its been very difficult to tease out their origins and subsequent evolution. Scientists are making headway though.

Carl's second article can be found in this month's National Geographic. It provides and up-to-date overview of the evolution of complexity found in living organisms. On his blog, Carl provides some links to published papers to give interested readers more background. All around, fascinating stuff.

Update: ScienceDaily has an article on the fungi paper in Nature. Good for the lay person.


Face the Truth

(HT to Razib)


Spying on Mars

Click on the picture to get a bigger view. What you're looking at is a snapshot from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of the rover Opportunity at Victoria Crater. The Mars Rovers only had a 90 day mission life; they are nearing day 1,000. It's pretty cool to see two very successful space missions interact like this.



If you're like me and wished you owned a hybrid vehicle and wondered what you can do to offset the CO2 emitted from you're standard vehicle, well, you now have an answer: TerraPass. This organization gives you a chance to offset your carbon emissions due to driving or flying. A yearly pass costs anywhere from $9.95/year (41+ mpg and up) to $79.95/year (for cars getting between 10-18 mpg). The money you spend is then used to fund clean energy projects such as wind energy, biomass products, and projects related to industrial efficiency. All funds are verified by a third party, the Center for Resource Solutions. As cars are responsible for 25% of CO2 pollution worldwide, this program could have a real impact.

In addition to your cars, you can also purchase a TerraPass for any flights you may be taking. Again, the cost of the pass depends on how many miles you are planning to fly. The low end is $9.95 for flights under 6,000 miles while frequent fliers can pay up to $1,499 (1,000,000 or so miles). Higher payments have some nice little gifts associated with them (not to mention the feeling of doing something positive!).

Inner Life Explained

A few weeks ago I posted a video that takes an inner view of the cell. Now, thanks to Wayne of the blog Niches, we have a shot by shot explanation of what we are actually seeing. The animation is much more fascinating with a little knowledge.

Liberal Top Ten

Geoff Stone of UC Law Blog has drafted ten propositions that he feels define a liberal. He invites a debate, so go read and think about them here.


Traveling & Learning

One of the advantages of working in a private school is options for professional development. Many public schools simply don't have the money to send their teachers to major conferences or workshops. My Head of School really advocates teachers getting out there and learning new ideas and methods and thus always has a healthy budget for development. So far I'm scheduled to take a NOAA/Seattle Aquarium workshop on ocean science; a workshop for specific science topics and methodologies for grades k-5; a math workshop to improve problem solving skills; and the National Science Teachers Association's regional conference in Salt Lake City. I'm actually amazed he said yes to all four. Just goes to show you that it doesn't hurt to ask. So, the next three months should provide me with some exciting opportunities to learn new ideas and have discussions with my peers. It will also help recharge the old battery before going into the long winter haul.


The Nobel for Chemistry has gone to Roger Kornberg, of Stanford University, "for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription." Transcription is the process by which our DNA is copied into a single strand of RNA, later followed by translation. A 5-page PDF file for the lay person can be found here.



One of the great technological feats to be constructed in the 21st century is the Square Kilometer Array. Imagine thousands of small antennas spread out over 3,000 kilometers with a total collecting area of a million square feet. This radio telescope will be able to spot active galactic nuclei to within a billion years of the universe's formation. The leading contenders of where the site will be housed are South Africa and Australia. Construction should begin in 2010 and SKA will be fully operational in 2020. A long wait, but radio astronomers have some very exciting years ahead of them.


The winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics are two Americans, John Mather and George Smoot. As described on the Nobel website:

This year the Physics Prize is awarded for work that looks back into the infancy of the Universe and attempts to gain some understanding of the origin of galaxies and stars. It is based on measurements made with the help of the COBE satellite launched by NASA in 1989.

The COBE results provided increased support for the Big Bang scenario for the origin of the Universe, as this is the only scenario that predicts the kind of cosmic microwave background radiation measured by COBE. These measurements also marked the inception of cosmology as a precise science. It was not long before it was followed up, for instance by the WMAP satellite, which yielded even clearer images of the background radiation. Very soon the European Planck satellite will be launched in order to study the radiation in even greater detail.

For a more detailed piece on the importance of their work, click here (pdf file).


TV and Academic Performance

From CNN:

Parents now have science to back them up when they say, "Turn off the TV. It's a school night."

Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming doesn't affect school performance much.

"On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did," said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. "They could watch a lot on weekends and it didn't seem to correlate with doing worse in school."

Children whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies also did worse in class, and for boys, that effect was especially strong. The findings are based on a survey of 4,500 students in 15 New Hampshire and Vermont middle schools. The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Weekend viewing and gaming slightly hurt school performance, but only when the students spent more than four hours each day at it over the weekend.

The study didn't look at grades or test scores, relying instead on students' own rating of their performance from "excellent" to "below average." Sharif said other studies have shown that students generally inflate their actual school performance when asked. But since both good and bad students overrate their performance, she said, self-reporting is reliable.

Researchers took into account the possible effect of different parenting styles as reported by the students, and they still found weekday TV viewing, video games and R-rated movie-watching harmful.

The researchers did not ask specific questions about homework rules at home, said Sharif, who has three children, ages 7, 11 and 15. Her children watch about an hour of TV after school and then "it goes off and they do homework," she said.

The researchers didn't speculate on why boys might be more affected by R-rated movies than girls.

But Douglas Gentile, who does similar research at Iowa State University, said boys may be watching more violent R-rated movies that make them more aggressive. The aggression may lead to poor school performance, said Gentile, who was not involved in the new study.

"This study should hammer home to parents that this is really serious," Gentile said. "One question all parents are going to be faced with (from their children) is, 'Can I have a TV in my bedroom?' There's a simple two-letter answer for that."

Previous studies have found links between the ability to learn and TV watching, including a study that found that children with TVs in their bedrooms scored about eight points lower on math and language arts tests than children without bedroom TVs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that older children watch no more than two hours daily of "quality" programming and that televisions be kept out of children's rooms.

I've noticed the difference in performance with my own students who I know are not allowed to watch tv during the week, or at the very least are very limited. These are the kids who read more, spend more time outside, and generally are much more thoughtful regarding their school work. The above study provides some very good advice for parents.

Physiology & Medicine

The winners of this years Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine are Andrew Fire and Craig Mello for their work on RNA interference (RNAi). Their discovery was a revolution in cell biology and genetics. For a cool animation click here.

UPDATE: Carl Zimmer has a nice post on their work here.

UPDATE II: Here's another article from the New York Times.


I Wish I Could Say I Am Shocked

UPDATE: It's been confirmed.

If there is any truth to this then we should have a new Secretary of State:

Members of the Sept. 11 commission said today that they were alarmed that they were told nothing about a White House meeting in July 2001 at which George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, is reported to have warned Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, about an imminent Al Qaeda attack and failed to persuade her to take action.

Details of the previously undisclosed meeting on July 10, 2001, two months before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, were first reported last week in a new book by the journalist Bob Woodward.

The final report from the Sept. 11 commission made no mention of the meeting nor did it suggest there had been such an encounter between Mr. Tenet and Ms. Rice, now secretary of state. . . .

Although passages of the book suggest that Mr. Tenet was a major source for Mr. Woodward, the former intelligence director has refused to comment on the book.

Nor has there been any comment from J. Cofer Black, Mr. Tenet's counterterrorism chief, who is reported in the book to have attended the July 10 meeting and left it frustrated by Ms. Rice's "brush-off" of the warnings.

He is quoted as saying, "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head." Mr. Black did not return calls left at the security firm Blackwater, which he joined last year.

The book says that Mr. Tenet hurriedly organized the meeting -- calling ahead from his car as it traveled to the White House -- because he wanted to "shake Rice" into persuading the president to respond to dire intelligence warnings that summer about a terrorist strike. Mr. Woodward writes that Mr. Tenet left the meeting frustrated because "they were not getting through to Rice."

The disclosures took members of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission by surprise last week. Some questioned whether information about the July 10 meeting was intentionally withheld from the panel.

(Via DailyKos)


OK, One More From XKCD


Playing Devil's Advocate to Win

As seen on XKCD.


Sad Day in US History

The Senate once again shames itself. At least my two Senators voted against the torture bill (S3930), although it is dissapointing that a filibuster was not at least attempted. Go read Glenn Greenwald for some of the moronic and backwards reasoning that some Senators used to rationalize a yes vote (including some Democrats).

In the Dark

Tonight the entire city of Reykjavik, Iceland will turn off their lights at 10 pm and sit in the dark for half-an-hour. Why? To look at the stars of course! And while families are star gazing an astronomer will describe what they are looking at over the national radio. If they're really lucky they'll see the Northern Lights. What a great idea.

(Via Bad Astronomy)


Olbermann Says What We All Feel

Keith Olbermann is quickly becoming the Edward R. Murrow of our time. Intelligent, articulate, and blistering in his analysis. It's nice to see someone who is willing to be brutally honest. Take the time to watch this, it is important.


Nobel Prize

The announcement of this years Nobel Prizes will begin next week. Keep a look out!


Woody Allen on String Theory

Woody Allen had an amusing short essay in the New Yorker about string theory. If you have a couple of minutes it is worth the read.

(Via Not Even Wrong)


Stay This Course?

From DailyKos:

Seattle Times--A stark assessment of terrorism trends by U.S. intelligence agencies has found that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.
LA Daily News--The U.S. military is likely to maintain and may even increase its force of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring, the top American commander in the region said Tuesday in one of the gloomiest assessments yet of when troops may come home.
CBS News--The Pentagon is in the early stages of drafting a wartime request for up to $100 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan, lawmakers say, a figure that would push spending related to the wars toward a staggering half-trillion dollars.
Guardian Unlimited--Torture in Iraq is worse now than it was under the regime of Saddam Hussein and "is totally out of hand", according to a United Nations investigator. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," said Manfred Nowak.


Elementary Physics

One of my students dad is a doctor. He works an absolutely insane schedule. Once a year, he takes one of his three kids on a five day trip for some bonding. This year he took his 5th grade son K backpacking around Four Corners National Monument. As they were driving north in New Mexico, an ominous thundercloud was approaching, lighting forking out all around them. K was getting nervous as the storm got closer. The lighting especially concerned him. K's dad, G, explained that they were perfectly safe from harm, even if the car was struck. K asked a reasonable question.

"If it's safe, why are we the only ones on the road?"
"We're not the only ones," his dad replied. "Look, there's another car right there," G said, pointing.
K, being the astute young boy that he is, observed that the car was going in the opposite direction. He again asked why they were the only ones traveling into the storm.
"We're driving into the storm because we have big brass gonads," his dad said.
K thought for a moment.
"What are gonads?"
"Big brass balls."
K paused for a second and then said, in all seriousness,
"I don't think having brass balls is a good idea in a lightning storm."


Good Quote

I like this quote from Chet Raymo, professor emeritus at Stonehill college. He says:

The purpose of science -- and indeed all education -- is to arrive at a state of ignorance, but an ignorance that is aware of itself.


I've Been Humbled

I've always thought that I was a bit of a nerd ( my wife assures me that this is not idle speculation). Whatever level of nerdiness I thought I had achieved I am comlpletely and utterly outmatched by the folks at Scienceblogs.

You Have To Pick Your Moment

Deciding to swallow a pregnant sheep while in the middle of a road may not be the greatest idea. This 18 foot python had to be removed by Malaysian villagers so that it would not get run over by oncoming traffic. The snake later regurgitated its meal. It just looks painful.


More Legal Shenanigans

Geoffrey Stone, UC Law Professor, has a post concerning the Bush administrations attempt to rewrite the law concerning torture, interrogation, the courts and their Constitutional implications. Here are the first couple of paragraphs; go read the rest.

A good deal has been made in recent days of the objections raised by Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and John Warner to President Bush's proposed legislation authorizing the use of military tribunals to try enemy combatants. I applaud the actions of Graham, McCain, Snowe, and Warner. What I find astonishing -- and deeply distressing -- is that other Senate Republicans have not rallied to their support.

Senators Graham, McCain, Snowe, and Warner have objected to several provisions of the Bush proposal, including those expressly authorizing the prosecution to use hearsay evidence, secret evidence, and evidence obtained by coercion involving degrading and inhuman treatment. Each of these proposals represents a profound and radical departure from the fundamental standards of fairness and decency that have long governed both criminal courts and military tribunals throughout the history of the United States. Each of them is legally, constitutionally, and morally unwarranted.

Doonsbury on Rumsfeld


Going Digital

I just had my new digital phone service installed by Comcast! No more crappy answering machine; straight to voicemail. Caller ID and Call Waiting with Caller ID. Three Way Calls. I can check my voicemail online. It's a brave new world.

Move Over A380

Boeing has a new cargo superfreighter, the 847. It's an impressive beast. It was built in Taiwan and will be landing here in Seattle tonight. There is some fear by local groups that the construction of the plane, done overseas by groups from Japan and Italy, will lessen the need for Puget Sound workers. Boeing insists this is not the case.

You can see a video of some take-offs and landings here.


Sun Found Not Guilty

A paper published in Nature yesterday has provided evidence that the change in the sun's luminosity during its 11-year sun spot cycle has not contributed in any meaningful way to global climate change. Reasons to excuse human activity are dwindling fast. Global warming skeptics are going to have to look for new evidence to support them.


Speak It!

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA):

In light of the rantings that went on for 30 minutes by two colleagues from the other side, I'd like to state for the record that America is not tired of fighting terrorism; America is tired of the wrongheaded and boneheaded leadership of the Republican party that has sent six and a half billion a month to Iraq while the front line was Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. That led this country to attack Saddam Hussein, when we were attacked by Osama bin Laden. Who captured a man who did not attack the country and let loose a man that did. Americans are tired of boneheaded Republican leadership that alienates our allies when we need them the most. Americans are most certainly tired of leadership that despite documenting mistake after mistake after mistake, even of their own party admitting mistakes, never admit they do anything wrong. That's the kind of leadership Americans are tired of ... I'm not going to sit here as a Democrat and let the Republican leadership come to the floor and talk about Democrats not making us safe. They're the ones in charge and Osama bin Laden is still at loose.
(Via StrangerFruit)

Pro-Bush group misstates key facts about anti-terror campaign

From FactCheck.org:

The pro-Bush group Progress for America is running a TV ad appealing directly to Americans' fear of terrorists, saying bluntly "These people want to kill us."

That's true enough. But the ad falsely attributes the recent thwarting of a hijack plot to the President's warrantless NSA wiretaps, when it was actually British authorities who uncovered it.

The ad also distorts the position of Iraq war critics, implying they propose to withdraw from "the Middle East" and not just Iraq.

And in a bit of bad luck, the ad cites the case of al-Qeda affiliate Zarqawi as evidence of the success of Bush's anti-terror campaign – one day before the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report saying Saddam Hussein considered him an outlaw and tried to have him arrested.


An Inside View

Would you like a tour of the cell? Of course you would. Click here to begin your fantastic voyage.

(Via Pharyngula)


Olbermann on Rumsfeld

Keith Olbermann gave an amazing and inspiring commentary on Rumsfeld's recent remarks. It is well worth watching and I encourage you to do so.

(Via Pharygula)





Crazy But Amazing

I've been on a YouTube kick lately. This short video is pretty cool. These gents are fortunate the silverback didn't feel like breaking them in half. What an experience though.

Someone Has Talent

Say Thanks

Xerox has a great program that allows you to pick out a postcard, designed by a kid, and have it sent to a random soldier overseas. They have some preset messages to use or you can write a short note yourself. The whole process is free to the user. To send a card, click here.


Finally, An Explanation

Ricky Gervais finally makes me understand.


Simple But True

Do you know what the equation represent? To find out, read through the comments of Pharyngula.


Constitution in Crisis?

Representative Conyers has released his lengthy report detailing alleged violations by the Bush administration. A summary of the report is here. The full report is here.

(Via Daily Kos)

Friday Funny


Altered Oceans

The LA Times has a five-part series of the crisis we're seeing in the oceans, regarding pollution, warming, changing habitats etc.... You can read it here. There are also links to video, photos, and some graphics.

The Rich are Better Off Than You Think

Bush creates tax cuts for the super rich. Republicans want to do away with the estate tax, deeming it unfair. And yet, according to a new report by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wealthy individuals are hiding trillions of dollars in assets in offshore banks to avoid paying 40-70 billion a year in taxes.

Original press release here.

Copy of official report (in pdf) here.

(I don't want to paint those with wealth all with the same brush. While there are, according to the report, a significant amount of individuals who utelize off-shore accounts for tax evasion, financial fraud, and money laundering, there are many, many people who earned their wealth the hard way and use it legally. Just pisses me off that people who make more than I will in 100 lifetimes don't seem to think they have to live by the same laws.)


A Microsoft Alternative

If you're looking for an alternative (and free) to Microsoft Office, give OpenOffice a try. It's completely compatible with Microsoft and works just as well as far as I can tell.

 Use OpenOffice.org

Northern Ireland Leads the Way

From GroovyGreen:

Now this is a little more like it. It’s amazing what can occur when an actual government gets behind renewable energy. In a step that’s sure to please environmentalists while making RE investors salivate, the ‘Government is proposing changes to the Building Regulations which will make the use of renewable energy compulsory in all new builds from 2008′ The new changes will apply to all new homes, company, and public buildings making solar hot water, roof photovoltaics, and small wind generation madatory in under two years.

Almost four thousand households will benefit immediately from the new systems. Those families on low incomes will also receive 100% grant assistance to install solar hot water systems for more than 500 homes. From the article,

‘Launching an £8 million renewable energy Household Programme, Peter Hain said that Northern Ireland is leading the rest of the United Kingdom in green energy. “I am fully committed to the use of renewable energy and I know how effective it can be. In my home in Wales, I have installed PV panels on my roof and this has resulted in my energy bill being halved. As a Government, we are also moving forward in changes to the building regulations to help and encourage greater use of renewable energy.’

(Original story found here.)



You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 8/8 correct!


You Know You're An Idiot If....

you buy a book by Kevin Trudeau. As soon as I saw his book title, "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About", I knew he was a joke. Yet people bought tons of it, despite the utter lack of scientific evidence to support any of this claims. He has another book out, "More Natural Cures", which is equally as bad. Both try to get you to pay for his website for more info. Trudeau is a true sleazeball. If you'd like to get an idea of what kind of crap he's peddling, and a scientific response, head over to Respectful Insolence.


Newly Christened

It turns out my elf name is Huor Linwëlin. My hobbit name is Popo Boggy-Hillocks. Want to find your names? Click here.

Life Up Close

Check out these photos of insects up close. Amazing!

(Via Evolgen)



The North Kitsap Herald published my letter to the editor. You can read it here. Will I get any replies?


Asking the Right Questions

Chris Matthews is on target:

MATTHEWS: I just wonder, Pat, about just the simple history. We know from looking at the Arab world as we've come to understand it, that there is this division there among the Shia who are on the outs and are becoming to be the ins, of course, in Iraq and certainly already control Iran. Taking on the Sunnis that's a world we are only vaguely understanding. That's a thousand year old war. Do you think we are creating another thousand year war by killing so many Arabs? I've been afraid of this war from day one because I've always felt, based on history, every time you kill somebody, you've got his brother, his mother, his family coming back to get you. We've killed 50,000 Iraqi's in a war that was supposed to be a two-day wonder. When are we going to notice that the neocons don't know what they're talking about. They're not looking at this country's long term interest. They're bound up in regional and global ideology and they have had no experience, I'll say it again, in even a school yard fight. They don't know what physical fighting is all about. They went to school and were intellectuals but they want our government to be their big brother. I don't get it. I don't know why we keep falling for it. And the president, you say, is he free of these guys or not?

And from Pat Buchanan:

Are these people nuts? You've got to ask yourself. I certainly hope the president is not listening to them because I really question whether they've got America's national interest at heart. They're calling for wars against people that never attacked us. I don't care how bad they are. There are wicked people all over this world but you don't go after people unless they come after you.

(Via Daily Kos)


Moving Up In The World

I was promoted yesterday to Lead Teacher of the 5th/6th grades. What this means is that for a small increase in wage I'll have more meetings and administrative duties on top of my regular work. Yay me! It will be a little strange as I am the youngest teacher in my school. I'm going to be optimistic and say that I'll get a lot of good experience out of this, not to mention a nice notation in my resume.

More Scientific Drivel

Our local newspaper, the North Kitsap Herald, published a letter to the editor with the typical misconceptions of a person who obtains her science information from a traveling pastor, Dr. Tony Hoyle. Her letter follows:

India has its Sacred Cow. The United States has its Sacred Ape. Few people remember the Scopes Trial didn’t prohibit teaching about life origins from creation, merely allowed local communities to include evolution, if desired. Now our tax dollars are used to censor research of scientists who believe it required intelligence to create this complex universe and its population.

Few people have read the Humanist Manifestos, which declare evolution to be the basis for the Humanists’ man-centered religion. Revisionist educators have failed to teach students that evolutionary beliefs were essential to both Communism and Nazism.

Are evolutionists united in how evolution happened? No! In 1980, the New York Times covered a four-day conference where leading evolutionists battled about how evolution took place.

They admitted there were very few, perhaps no examples, of one species gradually becoming another, or that “there seemed little agreement on how anybody could establish with some certainty that it happened one way and not another.”

One proposed alternative to Darwin’s theory was Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium, very reminiscent of another theory, which was laughed to scorn a few years ago.

Numerous evolutionists are now admitting there have been no transitional fossils found which establish their theories.

The late scientist, Dr. Henry Morris, penned the irony of evolutionist thought, “Thus, primeval unknown life forms which no longer exist were derived from unknown chemicals by unknown processes which no longer operate, in an atmosphere of exotic and unknown composition in contact with the primitive oceanic soup of unknown structure!” Pupils are taught this remarkable construct without one single scientific observation that it ever happened.

For open-minded or close-minded individuals, opportunity to learn what has been censored from the public debate was presented at the Poulsbo Nazarene Church July 16. Dr. Tom Hoyle presented Adam vs. the Apeman.

Using both humor and scientific accuracy, Dr. Hoyle has addressed public, private and home-schools, as well as radio and television, across the nation and abroad.

Isn’t it time to recognize we are not “Our Monkey’s Uncle,” and do away with the United State’s Sacred Ape? Darwin’s worn-out theory of “survival of the fittest” has created a jungle of our streets and homes.

The are so many things wrong and muddled in her thinking that it is hard to know where to begin. I fired off a reply. It says:

Ms. Shardelman’s letter to the editor perpetuates several misconceptions regarding evolutionary biology and demonstrates astonishing ignorance of science in general. What’s so unfortunate is that there are a number of excellent popular books on the subject, many by the man she quotes in her letter, Stephen Jay Gould, which could educate her on the subject. Dr. Hoyle, whose doctorate is in Christian Apologetics, not biology, is hardly a source of credible information.

Within the scientific community evolution is considered fact; the evidence is overwhelming. Sixty-seven countries national academy of sciences (including the US National Academy of Science) signed the Interacademy Panel’s Statement on the Teaching of Evolution in support of this. There is still rigorous debate regarding the mechanisms that drive evolution (i.e. the theory part of it). This is normal for any scientific enterprise. The result of this is a healthy level of research and investigation that continues to lend scientific support to modern evolutionary theory. Transitional fossils abound complementing our growing knowledge of genetics, development, comparative anatomy, and molecular biology.

Our students deserve to be taught the fact and theory of evolution, not substituting it for pseudoscientific and unsupported intelligent design arguments. Rest assured, the international community is sticking with the science.

I'm curious if they will publish it.


What He Said

Michael Greco, President of the American Bar Association (which represents 400,000 lawyers and judges) gave a damning speech condemning the Bush administration's tactics on the war on terror. This is a pretty big deal and I hope it gets picked up by the mainstream media.

(Via Daily Kos)


I'm So Going to Do This

What happens when you mix Diet Coke with Mentos? I'll be doing it with my students this fall.

Summer Upkeep

I've updated the ol' sidebar. New blogs added, some others updated. Give it a look over, you mind find something you like.


Alaskan Adventure

My buddy Paul is on a two month work trip in Alaska. He feels inspired and has started a blog to record his travels and experiences. Should be very interesting. He's a geoengineer (among other things) so he gets to use lots of cool toys and equipment. Go visit and see what he is up to.

Ark Found At Last?

A Christian archaeology team claims to have found the remains of Noah's Ark in the mountains of Iran. Why am I skeptical?


More Plant Sex

Chinese biologists have made the first discovery of a plant that pollinates itself. Holcoglossum amesianum, a tree-dwelling orchid, works against gravity to place pollen from its male appendage (the anther) to the female cavity (stigma). Most flowers depend on natural forces (wind, gravity) or insects for pollination.

K.W. Liu et al. 2006. Pollination: Self-fertilization strategy in an orchid. Nature 441: 945-946.


The Words of Marcus Aurelius

I recently picked up a copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Once in a while I'll post his thoughts on a variety of subjects.

Apply them constantly to everything that happens: Physics. Ethics. Logic. (pg. 103)


Dandelion Sex

Just got back from a trip to the Florida Keys; I hope to post something about that soon. In the mean time, heres a short essay I wrote for my class, where we have been discussing the evolution of sex and reproductive modes. I was examing a population of dandelions found in Europe. You might think them a dry subject, but they are really fascinating if you investigate a little.

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) are found throughout western
and central Europe (Verduijn et al. 2004; Meirmans et al. 2003; Van Der
Hulst et al. 2000). Sexual reproducing diploid forms often coexist with
apomictic tripoloid, and in some rare cases tetraploid, lineages
(Verduijn et al. 2004; van Dijk 2003). While mixing occurs, apomictics
dominate the northern regions of Europe while sexual lineages dominate
central and southern latitudes. Several hypotheses have been proposed
for this distribution. One, apomictics perform more successfully when
there are limited biotic interactions; their reproductive mode gives
them an advantage. It is also thought that apomictics do better in
marginal, fluctuating environments. Sexual lineages perhaps do better
in the central and southern climes due to more complex ecosystems;
recombination allows them to keep up with the evolutionary arms race or
fill specialized niches (van Dijk 2003).

Early studies of T. officinale prompted many questions concerning the
evolution of the species reproductive modes. Despite the fact that
pollen plays no role in seed production for the apomictics, the plant
continues to produce pollen, nectar, and functionless yellow petals (van
Dijk 2003). Maynard-Smith (1978) came to the conclusion that this
hinted at a relatively recent origin for apomictic reproduction and that
evolutionary adaptation in asexuals is slow.

Since then, more progress has been made to understand the population
dynamics of the species. Hybridization can occur between sexual and
asexual populations. Haploid egg cells of sexual diploids can be
fertilized by diploid pollen of apomictic triploid/tetraploid lineages
(van Baarlen et al. 2000). Crossing between these apomictic clones and
sexual lineages will lead to genetic variation and thus provide adaptive
opportunities for changing environments (van Dijk 2003). Crossing also
results in the production of novel polyploid lineages (Merimans et al.
2003). It has even been suggested that the long term success of
apomixis largely depends on the plants ability to cross with sexual
relatives (van Dijk 2003).


Maynard-Smith, J. 1978. The Evolution of Sex. Cambridge University Press.

Meirmans, P.G., Vlot, E.C., Den Nijs, J.C.M, and S.B.J. Menken. 2003.
Spatial ecological and genetic structure of a mixed population of sexual
diploid and apomictic triploid dandelions. J. Evol. Biol. 16: 343-352.

van Baarlen, P., van Dijk, P.J., Hoekstra, R.F., and J.H. de Jong.
2000. Meiotic recombination in sexual diploid and apomictic triploid
dandelions (Taraxacum officinale L.). Genome 43: 827-835.

van der Hulst, R.G.M., Mes, T.H.M., den Nijs, J.C.M., and K. Bachmann.
2000. Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers reveal that
population structure of triploid dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
exhibits both clonality and recombination. Molecular Ecology 9: 1-8.

van Dijk, P.J. 2003. Ecological and evolutionary opportunities of
apomixis: insights from Taraxacum and Chondrilla. Phil. Trans. R. Soc.
Lond. B 358: 1113-1121.

Verduijn, M.H., van Dijk, P.J., and J.M.M. van Damme. 2004. The role
of tetraploids in sexual-asexual cycle in dandelions (Taraxacum).
Heredity 93: 390-398.


Can You Imagine?

From BBC News:

Prime Minister Halldor Asgrimsson of Iceland has announced he is stepping down following his party's poor performance in local elections.

He said he would retain his seat in parliament, but would not hold a position in the cabinet.

"I take personal responsibility that the party lost," the prime minister said.

Analysts say Mr Asgrimsson had also been under pressure to resign amid rising interest rates and inflation.
A government leader taking responsibility? I wonder what that is like?

Marriage Amendment

Kos points to a list that might better serve the protection of traditional marriage:

1. Raise the public's consciousnesas of the dignity and importance of women in our still deeply patriarchal society.

2. Provide every couple with a guarantee of health insurance that spares them the relational strains inflicted by devastating illness and an inability to pay for medical care.

3. Increase the minimum wage and offer tax breaks to the working poor so that spouses can see each other for more quality length of time, rather than briefly passing eachother on their way to two jobs.

4. Cover mental healthcare in medical insurance policies so that serious emotional difficulties can be prevented from tearing marriages apart.

5. Encourage family planning.

6. Set aside resources for dealing with domestic abuse. Well, at least, that's a start.


American Revolution

Tonight begins a 13 part series on the American Revolution by the History Channel. Starts at 10:00 pm EST/PST.

And It Begins....

My posting has been erratic over the last few weeks, mostly due to a crazy schedule. School is winding down, however, so I hope to have more time to look at some interesting things. In addition, my last grad course started today, Evolutionary Biology, so I plan on posting on some of the more interesting topics we cover.

I'll start with something basic: scientific theories, hypothesis, and laws. Most scientific misunderstandings stem from the publics lack of knowledge regarding some simple terminology. A theory in science is much different than the lay term. Peter Wilson provides a good explanation of these terms:

Scientific Law: This is a statement of fact meant to explain, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and univseral, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar to mathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true.

Some scientific laws, or laws of nature, include the law of gravity, the law of thermodynamics, and Hook’s law of elasticity.

Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

Theory: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis.

In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology.

The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law governs a single action, whereas a theory explains a whole series of related phenomena.

Some scientific theories include the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the quantum theory. All of these theories are well documented and proved beyond reasonable doubt. Yet scientists continue to tinker with the component hypotheses of each theory in an attempt to make them more elegant and concise, or to make them more all-encompassing. Theories can be tweaked, but they are seldom, if ever, entirely replaced.

If you can keep these definitions in mind, you'll already be better prepared to interpret scientific information.


Rethinking the War on Terror

Firedoglake had an interersting post on whether there really is a "war on terror." At the same time, former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has released a report that says the US war on terror is making things worse and will lead to a new arms race. Worth mulling over.


Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

(Via Evil Bible)


Vader Calls Collect

(Via Orac)


And The Day Was Good

PZ is rightfully enraptured by this latest find: The complete Calvin & Hobbes online. Let's hope it's legal and stays a while.


Don't Book Your Tickets Just Yet

A few months ago I blogged about the Space Elevator. For science optimists, the space elevator is a cool idea and perfectly feasible given the right technology. The idea is to attach a paper-thin ribbon constructed of carbon nanotubes to a platform on earth and counter-weight it in orbit. People and materials can then be run up the ribbon at a fraction of the cost of a shuttle launch. It seems there might be a setback, however.

Nicola Pugno is publishing a paper questioning how durable the carbon ribbon will be. Pugno argues that atomic-scale defects in the ribbon will make it much weaker than currently estimated. I'm sure other physicists will debate this, especially the space elevator's main advocate, Brad Edwards. He contends he could construct the ribbon in 3 years given the right funding. I'm a little skeptical of that myself, but I'm glad people are going to keep working on this. Perhaps in my lifetime we'll have our first elevator going up.


More Senate Stupidity

A Senate committee voted 10-8 to bring a a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages to the full Senate. What a waste of time. With all of the problems facing our country and the world, they spend time and money on this ridiculous issue. Same-sex marriage hurts no one. I'm not going to suddenly leave my wife and become gay just because other gay couples can marry. No wonder Congress has an 18% approval rating.


Just Gruesome

Have you ever wanted to see a snake (python or anaconda?) eat a juvenile hippo and then regurgitate it? Now's your chance. Click here for some grisly footage.


Bill Cosby Was Right...

kids do say the darndest things. My wife was teaching her 3rd graders about similes. They had to fill out a paper with the following template:

As [blank] as a [blank]. One of her boys wrote:

As fast as a fart out of my butt.

He got full credit although she pointed out that perhaps he should keep those type of things to himself in the future.


An Honest Student

I paper I wish I could get credit for.

(Via Pharyngula)

Links of the Day

Here are a couple of links to some interesting reading.

Over at the Atlantic Monthly, Marc Bowden has an article on the attemped Delta Force rescue of the Tehran hostages. If you read and enjoyed Black Hawk Down, this is right up your alley.

In Rolling Stone is an article by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz titled "The Worst President in History?" Do you agree?


Guys Got Brass

Stephen Colbert was allowed to give a speech at the White House Correspondent Dinner. Bush and company may be regretting it. The transcript is hilarious and I would say gutsy (To view the complete video, click here). Here are some of my favorite moments:

Jesse Jackson is here. I had him on the show. Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants at the pace that he wants.
It's like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.

And as excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News.
Fox News gives you both sides of every story, the President's side and the Vice President's side.
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on N.S.A. wiretapping or secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason, they're superdepressing.

Wow, wow, what an honor. The White House Correspondents' Dinner. To just sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what, I'm a pretty sound sleeper, that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face.

This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite powered car.

Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.

Read the whole thing, it's hysterical.

Fair Taxes?

For you fans of trickle-down economics, Mortimer Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News & World Report, has a short pointed essay on the effects of President Bush's tax cuts. Reality check: they're not really helping (at least, not to most of us). Click here to give it a read.

Update: An appropriate quote from the recently passed John Kenneth Galbraith regarding trickle-down economics:
"If you feed enough oats to the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows."



Via Kevin Drum:


Earth on the Move

In celebration of Earth Day, I thought a cool video of our planet would be appropriate. As the Mercury spacecraft Messenger did a flyby of Earth last year, it took hundreds of photos. They start out around 66,000 kilometers from the planet and go until about 436,000 km. Scientists strung the photos together to create the video, and it was well worth the effort. Check it out here.

(Hat tip to Bad Astronomy for the link)


Workplace Safety

Dwight Schrute, of the Office, has these important tips:

Workers are getting injured, sick, and are dying in EVERY office, EVERY day. You cannot avoid it. Unless you do the following.

1. Do not fall. Falls (e.g. down stairs, out doors, windows, etc.) are dangerous and lead to fractures, sprains, contusions and death.

2. Do not burn yourself. Overheating your tea is a good way to burn yourself. Do you want that? In order to assure that your skin is not harmed, tea should not be heated to more than 98.6 degrees.

3. Stay in your seat. By staying in your seat, you are less likely to encounter any of these hazards. Wait until you have 3 tasks to do, and then get up.

One of my officemates thinks I'm “being ridiculous” and “should seek counseling.” Well, fine, Jim. Do not follow these safety rules. Good luck getting through the month of February which is by far the most deadly 28 days of the year.


For the last three days I've been up at the Olympic Park Institute with my students. We visited Tongue Point to explore tide pools and then spent the rest of our time hiking and canoing around Cresent Lake. It's a beautiful place, and rather than try to describe it, I'll throw up some pictures (still learning how to use pictures effecitively on Blogger. Not impressed so far).


Educate Yourselves!

The 62nd Carnival of Education is up over at the Magic School Bus. Go check it out and read what educators around the globe are thinking (I have in post in there, just to plug myself). Thanks to Coturnix for hosting.