Thursday, April 29, 2010

Too Big to Be Contained

Well, the oil slick is getting bigger. 42, 000 gallons/day is what has been quoted. However, this article suggests the amount could be as much as five times that value.


Well, let's look at that.

42, 000 gallons is 1, 000 barrels. (1 barrel is 42 US gallons.) So, we're now talking about 5000 barrels of oil/day.

Remember the Exxon Valdez? The EV carried, get this, up to 1.48 million barrels of oil. It spilled 10.8 million gallons-- 257, 143 barrels. We will call this value the unit for an oil spill, a valdez.

1,000 barrels, then, is .004 valdez-- 4 millivaldez of spill.

Now, this is not to be sneezed at. But the picture above from NASA (here) shows that it can be seen from space. Hear that? From space!

Hm, again. This blog entry suggests the number may well be under reported. They're suggesting as much as 20,000 barrels/day with a cumulative effect of 6 million gallons-- over half a valdez. And more coming every day.

The Exxon Valdez effects are still present today, over twenty years later, in Prince William Sound. However, there are two interesting things here. One is the PWS is way, way north and the ocean temperatures rarely get much about 40 degrees F. The other is that PSW opens broadly to the Pacific Ocean so one could expect a good dilution factor-- presuming the temperature ever gets high enough for any real liquidity of the crude.

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is vastly different. First, the temperatures are way, way higher. (They are about 71 degrees right now.) Second, the Gulf of Mexico isn't open to the Atlantic the same way as PWS is open to the Pacific.

I make the following prediction: given the above, the oil will land in one areas or series of areas but will be cycling around the gulf for a long time. Since it is quite likely the spill will not be properly contained or capped for some time, I expect the total quantity of oil to significantly exceed the amount released by the Valdez.

New Orleans and Gulfport are just the oil's first port of call.
Wall of Idiots
Stop Too Big To Fail
Claude Allegre
Crazy American Legislation
Duncan Hunter R-CA
The Death Panel Meme
Michele Bachmann
Mitch McConnell and here
Scientists and the Public hear different things
KFC Double Down

Links of Interest
The Economist on Climategate
Krugman on climate change
The spiral of biologic time
White Nose Syndrome update
Beetlecam Brothers
Unusual petri cultures
Tentacular place settings
A gallery of robot spiders
Iceland Eruption Photographs
Eruptions on the sun
Printing skin
V: Design for the First world

Resonator guitar from acoustic guitar
Paracord: Leatherman pouch, chair, bottle carrier, monkey fist,
Watermelon basket
Altering sandals for pregnant feet
PVC 101
Hi-visibility badges for biking/running
Litmus paper
Vermiculture and here
Cold frame
Craft or nail files
Glass etching
Bike tree
Gold sluice

The Need for Big Government

(Picture from here.)

I've been watching the rhetoric go on about the Mighty Government for some time now. I notice that there are a few tag lines that seem to go unchallenged. One is that Small Government is Good, Big Government is Bad. Another is that somehow Government is inherently Inefficient and Business is inherently Efficient. The last one is more implied. This one says that an otherwise moral and intelligent person becomes venal, evil and lazy (and usually overpaid) the very instant they enter civil service. Government is bad. Everything that is bad about the country is the fault of the government.

Okay, these ideas are pretty much crap. By the technical word, crap, I mean without foundation. Without merit. In short, a lie.

I know I fly in the face of prevailing opinion (see here for a serious look at trust in government) but think about it seriously for a moment. How many of you out there are really touched much in any bad way by government? Let's think about it. You get up in the morning. You brush your teeth and have your breakfast. You get in your car (or some mass transit system) and go to work. Work-- probably pretty hard. Most Americans work very hard. Go home. See your spouse. See your kids. Watch TV and go to bed.

Now I can see the work of good government in that scenario: the toothpaste and food are pretty safe. Your water is pretty safe. The roads are pretty safe. The school system may not be what you want it to be (I'll talk about why it isn't some other time) but most kids have a pretty good deal. By "pretty good deal" I mean most schools aren't violent and most kids can learn if they want to. Traffic isn't optimum but people aren't raging through intersections at 90 miles an hour and honking in case you're coming the other way. (I'll tell you stories about Ecuador some other time.) The roads work. The cars aren't death traps. Your house is unlikely to suddenly explode or burst into flames-- code is adhered to by and large. Code, by the way, is created by government and bureaucracy.

I mean it's an American tradition to be pissed off at the government. But the level of "criticism" that's leveled at the government these days is unreal. I have never had any problem getting anything I want, whether it be guns, licenses, property, food or whatever. You have to pay for it-- America is all about the dollar. But it's there to be had.

So, first off. Government is not inherently bad. A whole great gaping shitload of stuff the government does is pretty damned good.

But how big should government be?

Here, you have to separate the rhetoric from the substance. Most of the talking heads that talk about "Small government is good, big government is bad" are using the term "small government" as a code word for ineffectual government or no government. They very clearly say that the population should always decide for themselves what should be done. Government can only gum up the works. For a lot of this, "deregulation" stands for no government and "regulation" stands for Big Evil Government. Remember these terms.

The problem is that the mass of men don't really act in such an ideological manner.

There's a great article written by Garrett Hardin in 1968. A good discussion of it is here. It's called The Tragedy of the Commons. The problem is the exploitation of common resources. It turns out that there is individual incentive to over use common resources at the expense of the common good. You see this every day. If you use a broad definition of common resources as those resources intended for shared and equitable utilization, there's a strong incentive to exploit those resources for individual benefit. You could, in a trivial example, look at a line of traffic at a stop sign. The road is the common resource and it is intended to be accessed through the intersection sequentially. However, it is also clear that there is an incentive for individuals to run around the others in the traffic line and get through the stoplight. Often they do. That's what traffic cops are for.

Another trivial example is the right of way on the side of the road. It's not recognizably "common" in the strictest sense of the word. Often it's owned. But just as often you can't tell who owns it and it might be out of sight of the nearest house. There are those who dump stuff on those right of ways. That's one of the reason dumping and litter laws exist.

It's government that preserves those "common resources" from abuse and enforce their proper use.

I call all of these common resources, collectively, infrastructure. I think infrastructure goes way beyond roads and bridges. It's courts. It's the SEC. It's environmental protection and the FDA. It's all of those social and physical constructions that are necessary to put in place to protect the required infrastructure by which we live our lives.

Business is not responsible for infrastructure-- they utilize it. But no business can put itself in the situation of managing an infrastructure for other businesses for free. If it does, it gets parasitized by the other businesses. (BTW: this is the problem of the infrastructure of the internet. But another time...)

So: ineffectual government doesn't work-- Newt Gingrich believes that's great and that's why he shouts about big government all the time. One of the infrastructural components of our society is a level playing field. He has never liked that idea and you can see it in his writings. If you're not rich and christian, he's not interested in you and that's the society he paints in his writings. If you're poor or not christian, and you like Newt, you got problems because he sure isn't looking out for your interest.

Government has to be big enough to manage the infrastructure of society.

How big does that have to be?

Well, one of the infrastructures that has to be managed is capitalism itself. The free market is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It has to be managed or big players and monopolies will squeeze out little players. That's the name of the game and we've seen it all over the world and here in our own back yard. It takes intervention (read: "government") to preserve such an unnatural system so that it works.

Given that does anybody seriously think that something the size of Citibank or Goldman Sachs can be managed by something run in a shack out on the bayou? No: it has to be as efficient and organized, and as large, as the things that are being managed. There's a reason big banks like little government. They don't like regulation. It adds cost to their operation to be honest, forthright and open. Besides, they can't make shady deals. There are reasons big pharma likes little FDA. There's a reason big energy likes little EPA.

Government has to be big enough.
Wall of Idiots
Elliot Maynard
10 GW Marine Power System... in China?
New renewable systems and high speed rail... in China?
Michele Bachmann and Haley Barbour
Massey Energy
Steve Poizner
Scott Brown (surprise!)
Democrat attack ads
Mitch McConnell, among others

Links of Interest
Solar powered airships
Gummi bear surgery
Heike Weber
Old lead in new uses
The Ruins of Detroit

Disassembled household appliances
Model 2 Fab @ Home
Vertical Vegetables Confound Cats!
Garden hose repair
Mold making
Stainless steel rose
Things to do with a 55 gallon drum
Coffee liqueur
Field sink
Leather bike grips
Triple chocolate brownie cake
Lawnmower to hoe

Monday, April 19, 2010

About "Bread and Circus"

Bread and Circus was the first story idea that my son and I figured out together. The story was written sometime in early 2006 and appeared in F&SF in 2008. It shows up today at the Book View Cafe. Go here and read it.

Ben and I came up with the idea about a year earlier when he was seven. The schedule for the bus pickup was such that I was the one that waited with him down at the bottom of the driveway. He was into soccer at the time.

One of the games we played while waiting for the bus was soccer using pine cones. Ben's imagination being what it was we were rarely something as mundane as humans playing soccer.

"I'm a T. rex," he yelled, coming in for the goal.

I stopped dead. Dinosaurs playing soccer. How cool was that?

"Can I use that?" I asked him.

"Sure," he said in a spasm of misplaced generosity.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha! I said to myself. It's mine! All mine!

Like any other writer, I will steal story ideas from children.

Wall of Idiots
Crowd madness and the internet
1989 Exxon spill keeps on giving

Links of Interest
Americanization of Mental Illness
Neanderthal fashion sense
Gator-Bird breathing
Evolution of fish gills
Top 10 science stories of 2009

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Brings Flowers, These Days

It's spring in the Northeast. Up here, we have long, cold winters and often mediocre summers. Last year we had so much rain the zucchinis rotted on the vine. Falls are nice but the foliage doesn't last long and then it's winter again.

But we really, really appreciate spring.

And, as always, when I see the flowers, a middle aged man's thoughts turn to evolution.

It's easy to look at the perfection of flowers and marvel. But it's important to remember that we're not seeing the fully developed and diversified product of something that's been percolating in the ecosystems for a long, long time.

So where did those flowers come from, anyway?

Flowers show up like Athena from the head of Zeus about 125 million years ago. One minute we have conifers and ginkos. The next flowers show up. Evolutionary success? Forget dinosaurs and mammals. Flowering plants are where it's at.

Most symbiotic relationships either disappear or descend into parasitism. The symbiosis between insects and flowering plants seemed to take on quickly and wave as first the dinosaurs, then the ultra large birds and mammals bit the dust.

Recent work (See here.) has suggested that flowering plants (or their ancestors) appeared much earlier, between 290 and 240 million years ago. Scientists found oleanane , a compound used by flowering as a defense against fungi and microbes but is absent in conifers and other non-flowering plants. This does not mean flowers existed back then. However, it does suggest their ancestors could have.

One interesting aspect of this is the range neatly encapsulates the Permian extinction. I haven't seen this mentioned in the literature. It would be interesting of the extinction event either created a niche for already existing possible flowering plants or set the stage for flowering to be generated.

Flowers are modified leaves. This is an idea 200 years old (suggested by Johan Wolfgang Goethe) and confirmed in the 90s. However, the way that flowers generated their structures was a mystery. It turns out its a two factor system: one gene (LEAFY) makes flowers different from shoots and a second gene (WUSCHEL) makes the center differentiate from the end.

What makes this interesting is that WUSCHEL is already known to be essential in the patterning of shoots and leaves. Plants are reusing a gene that was already in place for the shoots and leaves.

The curious thing about flowers is not the structuring of the flowers but the co-evolution (and co-option) of insects along with it. One idea is that this started on an island-- islands are wonderful places for innovations to get started. There's a narrow range of competition. Often, predation is reduced. Evolutionary strategies can be explored in relative safety.

If this occurred, then sometime by the early Cretaceous the cat escaped the bag and roamed the earth. Adaptation of insects closely followed. Pollinator and pollinated walked down the path together. There's been some interesting work how flower types and pollinators matched one another. (See here and here.) There's some lovely work on the co-evolution of the corolla tubes of plants (the plants through which the pollinator must reach) and the tongue length of the pollinator. (See here.)

Flower evolution turns out to be a much greater source of divergence between species that fruit product. (See here.) This suggests that once flowering plants were established, they became an adaptive mechanism themselves, bootstrapping their own adaptive radiation. Flowers are all about sex. They could probably be the most dynamic sexual evolutionary mechanism on the planet.

This was all was going through my mind as we returned from lunch, walking over sidewalks carpeted by thousands of discarded petals.

"Plant fornication," mutters Chris, walking next to me.

"Not at all," says Erik, not to be outdone. "This is merely plant fornication's soiled and discarded lingerie."

Ah, I thought.

The blog for Sunday.
Wall of Idiots
Burble, burble methane
Clear cutting in New England
UN rejects export ban on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Links of Interest
An earlier dinosaur
The evolution of culture
Human flesh search engine
Evolutionary pedigree coming into focus
Shrimp under antarctic ice
Hobbits older than thought
Dark energy
Volcanism helped dinosaurs ascend
More on Dark Flow
Wind induces Arctic ice loss
Census under the sea

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BVC News: A Little Late

On April 13, Book View Café (BVC) proudly presents the ebook release of JAYDIUM, the debut novel of Deborah J. Ross (originally published under her former name, Deborah Wheeler). Hungry for "a wild and woolly journey through time and space," some really cool aliens, and a touch of romance? Get your copy of JAYDIUM:

"A wild and woolly journey through time and space that contains enough imagination and plotting for an entire shelf of books." -- Don D'Ammassa in SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE

"Beautifully executed . . . marks Wheeler as a stellar new talent." -- Catherine Asaro in MINDSPARKS

"There is an emphasis on the quest for peace that is unusual when so many novels focus on the quest for dominance and victory." -- Tom Easton in ANALOG

"JAYDIUM sweeps the reader into a well-designed world populated with realistic people . . . a fast-paced and fun read." -- Mary Rosenblum

"Excellent hard science-fiction . . . I look forward to reading more." -- Marion Zimmer Bradley

"A smashing debut novel!" -- Mike Resnick

To celebrate the release of JAYDIUM, BVC will be holding one of their famous twitter fic contests from April 13 through April 15th at Details at
Wall of Idiots
SCOTUS foils the clean water act
Anti-evolution rhetoric! Now with Global Warming!

Links of Interest
Return of the Auroch
Iron shelled snail
Mountains under glass
Aliens among us
Horizontal gene transfer in evolution
Altruism in chimps
Quantum photosynthesis
Why is water weird?
The first writing
Early humans on the water
Are liberals smarter than conservatives?
Ice deposits on the lunar pole
The Face of Lucy
Bacterial electrical communication
The noise of gravity

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mars Needs Endings

There's a fundamental truth to writing. I'm giving it away free today because it seems that much of the world doesn't seem to understand it.

Stories need endings.

Endings complete the story. Endings make the story resonate. Endings make the story function. Most of all, endings make the story work as a story. Real life doesn't have endings. Stories do.

Endings is what makes fiction operate. It's the point of a story.

I say this in all seriousness since I see all around me stories that do not end and thereby cease being stories at all. Think Twilight. Think Two and a Half Men. Think Wheel of Time.

I'm not sure what to call these things without endings. Comfort prose? Junk fiction? I don't know. But they're not stories.

A story is a fragile armature. Characters are set up. They move forward in their environment. They solve their problems and change their world. They create an experience for the reader. The characters are changed by their experience and at the end of the story are not the same people as they were in the beginning. Therefore, if the characters continue they must change. Time must pass. People get old. They get wise. They die.

What I'm seeing are attempts to keep the characters the same and push them through a different set of experiences that produce the same effect in the reader-- the fiction equivalent of McBurgers: 90 billion read. Then, the characters wear out. The original matrix of their personalities fray under continued use. What do the writers do? They up the ante of the environment.

This is completely common in continuing comic books. It's why Superman, as much as I love the character, ultimately fails. Superman saves the city. Well, we have to top that. Superman saves the state. Have to top that again. Superman saves the country. Saves the world. Pretty soon, Superman is not much different from a god, then God himself. The best Superman stories are those that are presented with an ending. (My own favorite is Red Son, where Superman's rocket crash lands 12 hours earlier and hits a farm in the Ukraine and he's raised in the USSR under Stalin.)

James Bond is another example. He wore out in the books but you can't keep a good franchise down in the movies. There's too much money at stake. So what do they do? They up the stunts. Change the actor. In short, do everything possible to improve the product (and it is a product) without changing anything important. It's exactly the same with computer products where they change all the flash, glitter and user interface without fixing bugs that have been in the product since its inception. Think Windows. Think Word.

Think soap opera.

Links of Interest
Peep sushi
V: Music of the Trees
Massive spiral creepiness
V: Misbehaving shadow
Open prosthetics
V: Towel folding robot
Nomadic plants
V: Brain controller vs Marvin Minsky
Bobbing ocean generator
V: CNC Porn

Workshop organization tips
Mighty Ohm
Stirling engine society
Diet Coke and Mentos Kit
Cleaning brushes
Skeleton bot
Radio monitoring
Overhead kitchen rack
Bike light vest
Kinetic sculpture (mobiles)
Stoplight lens bird feeder
Paracord army men
Cruising a Stirling engine
Gakken mini guitar kit
Reblown beer glass tumblers
Micro forge
Hydroelectric generator
Solar generator

Appreciating Spring

There are downsides in Massachusetts. The winter is long and changeable-- mostly long. Springs are changeable. Fall is beautiful but cannot be depended on. Summers. Well, some years you might get rain all June. Some years you get drought so hard you're worried about water. Did I say changeable?

Springs are not as colorful here as other places I've lived. If you want a sweet spring, go to Missouri.

But I will say this about Massachusetts: no one appreciates spring like we do. When it does come and we cautiously poke our heads outside and finally figure out that blazing ball in the sky actually is the sun. Against all our better judgment, spring has come again. By God we celebrate. We sit on the porch and marvel. People run red lights not for the normal impatient reasons but just because they were so engrossed in the light they just missed.

The picture above is our apricot tree-- as likely a disappointment as love since we've never gotten an apricot from it. But it's in bloom, by God. Isn't it pretty.

This picture is from the plum espalier I've been working on. You might have to expand it to look at it. I'm not a great photographer but we get plums every year-- just long enough to appreciate them before they're taken by brown rot.

Isn't it lovely?

Wall of Idiots
Massey Energy and here
Republican extremism and here and here
Southern Republican Leadership Conference
National Science Board
Glenn Beck

Links of Interest
SpaceX Falcon 9 Engine Test Finally Happens!
Hurricane wavemaker
Dark flow
How robots "think"
Large scale relativity test
Rube Goldberg
Testosterone really makes you stupid. Who knew?
Volcanoes of Venus
Virtual autopsy
V: Inside You
Gravity as an emergent property
V: Dice stop action
Christopher Conte
Pullman on Free Speech
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Solar powered rain barrel watering system
Wine glass candle lamps
Hen haven
Recession lamp
Container city
Gutterless drain barrel
Paracord: Hanging chair, hand cuffs, survival bracelet, dog toy, bullwhip
Marsh plants and gray water
Scotch egg
Crystal nightlight
Repair CD/DVDs with vaseline
Nesting material dispenser
Mash tun
Wire wrap a feather 1, wire wrap a feather 2
Cheese aging cave
Wooden bed frame
Finger top
California cooler
Dryer lint fire starter

Monday, April 5, 2010

On "Another Perfect Day"

I have only played with time travel. Once, in a story called The Fishhook. That one has never seen the light of day.

The other one is a story called Another Perfect Day. APD came out in August 2008 in F&SF. It's a light story which I will not spoil by discussing its internals. Go read it here.

I don't generally like time travel stories. In most science fiction stories, novels and films, once time travel is introduced things get silly. Once you have time travel, all other problems have to view the world in which time travel can happen. Blew the job today? Go back tomorrow and fix it. Fixed it too much? How much is too much? How much too little? The time travel comes to dominate the story.

Time travel is the second generation inbred cousin to the alternate world story-- which I tend to like, except where time travel is involved. But, like time travel, the alternate nature of the AW story tends to dominate the telling of an actual story: characters are sublimated to the alternate nature's greater good. The story ceases to be about anything interesting other than the AW plot.

So, I tried to contrive a story where these sorts of problems couldn't occur.

Oh, and I get to play with Sergei Prokofiev, who I really like.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Inescapable Reality

(Picture from here.)

I talk a lot about evolution. I think a lot about evolution. Other folks think about philosophy and art, engineering and science, love and marriage-- I think about these, too. Sure. But I spend a lot of time thinking about evolution. I even wrote a small play about it. (See here.)

As I said a while back (here) evolution is hard to understand. It doesn't help that evolution affects us, as well. We like to think of ourselves as above the rest of the world. Apart from it. Evolution kicks that idea right to the curb. Whatever we are, wherever we came from, evolution brought us here.

A few years ago I wrote a long trilogy of essays on religion and evolution (here, here and here) which I will not bore you with today. But I do want to dwell on how we got where we are. There's a lot of interesting information that has come out in the last few years.

So: I'm going to talk about human evolution and bring it back to science fiction at the end. This is going to be a meandering trip.

Let's start by looking at a cladogram. (Picture from here.) These show the ancestral relationships between organisms. The basis for a cladogram can be anything-- DNA similarity, morphological similarity, etc. What's important is the grouping characteristics and the relationship of the groups across time. The first cladogram is one showing the evolution of mammals. Often, the end point is the subject matter for the investigation and the result is the form as is shown.

At left is a cladogram of human evolution based. (See here.) It's a common enough derivation. Pongo (orangutans) come off the mainline first, followed by gorillas, followed by the split between humans and chimps.

Any evolutionary understanding of human beings has to account for these relationships, either as they stand or some other, similar relationship between the living great apes.

We have a lot of special characteristics: upright posture, hands and feet, our brain, invisible ovulation and regular menstruation, lack of hair, etc. The latter don't fossilize but are just as important to our nature as the former.

So: what's been going on in human evolution?

Let's go bottom up and start with bipedalism.

The discussion that's been going on for a long time is whether or not we came down from the trees or up from the ground. The "down from the trees" hypothesis suggest we developed the precursors of bipedalism as tree dwellers and came down to walk when the trees disappeared when our area in Africa went from forest to savannah. The reasoning derives from chimps which have a pelvis that actively discourages upright posture and forces the legs of the chimp out to the side. By the time Lucy came along, the pelvis had rotated so that back so that she could stand upright, her legs directly beneath her. (See here.) For selection to occur, this had to be present in the population before bipedalism in order to select for bipedalism. An interesting erosion in the orangutan pelvis is similar to what might have occurred that pre-Lucy ancestor. Hence, when the ape came down from the trees was predisposed to walk upright. Selection then had an opportunity to operate.

The "up from the ground" hypothesis has our own closest relatives going for it: both gorillas and chimpanzees are essentially ground walkers. If they're our closest relatives, it's reasonable to suppose that our ancestors were more like them. However, that would suggest that gorillas, chimps and humans were all knuckle walkers back in the day. New evidence (see here) suggests that in fact chimp knuckle walking and gorilla knuckle walking are not the same thing at all but evolved separately. This takes history right off the table and forces us to look at the evidence differently.

It's clear which side I fall on.

Which brings us to hands and feet.

Just this year, an interesting article came out about human feet. (See here.) As one would expect, bipedalism frees the hands to be used independent of motion. This opens all sorts of opportunities to select for hand use: tools, manipulation, scratching, etc. We can, therefore, consider bipedalism required to make humans a tool using animal.

Even so, we have spectacular hands, able to play the piano or perform complex surgery. Remember how evolution works: predisposition presents the opportunity for selection.

It turns out that the hands and feet developed together. As evolutionary pressure was brought to bear on foot development, there was a knock on effect on hand development. Think about your foot: big toe, more or less uniform toes, all in the same plane. Think about your hand: more or less uniform fingers, stubby but thick thumb, more or less in the same plane.

It turns out that development of hands and feet share a lot of the same body plan genetics. So, as we were developing good feet we got a predisposition to usable hands.

Which brings us to our brains.

Again, we have to look for a predisposition in our ancestors.

Well, it turns out our primate ancestors had a predisposition for "higher" thought long before the great apes.

Rhesus monkeys are old world monkeys. This puts them into the half of all monkey species that include human beings. Any trait we share has a significant probability of being a common trait we inherited from a common ancestor. This is, of course, not a certainty. (See knuckle walking above.) But it's a reasonable bet.

Researchers in Germany have been studying how Rhesus monkeys apply greater than/less than rules-- in effect, a form of higher mathematics. (See here.) They decided to not only investigate how well the monkeys did, but by using fMRI they wanted to see if the reasoning originated in the same region of the brain as human beings. To make a long story short: it did.

This makes sense. Evolution is changing the expression of things for which the rudiments and predispositions exist. Bipedalism, hands and feet are physical things with physical expressions. We should expect evolution to show up changes and differences there. The brain is another physical organ. Why should we expect evolution in the brain to be any different? So, if we have a mathematical ability, we should expect to find something common to it in a cousin species the same way we would expect to find hands and feet, eyes and ears.

And we see it in ourselves.

Reading is biologically recent-- at best, a few thousand years old. An article in Scientific American last October described some research regarding Broca's Area in the human brain. Broca's Area is highly involved in language processing. (See here.) Broca's area also exists in the great apes, though it is not involved in language processing since they have no language. (See here.) It turns out the Broca's Area is tightly coupled with reading. fMRI studies reveal that reading is processed similarly to spoken language. We were predisposed to read by our ability to speak.

(A similar experiment, published in 2007, showed similar results for Chinese, a more pictographic language. I was surprised by a paper I found from 2008 (see here) that suggests that Chinese is processed similarly to English. Ain't science wonderful?)

What we should expect, then, from evolution is that human beings exists in a biological context. We have relatives that look like us and act like us. We can determine specializations that are unique to us but they derive from common characteristics.

Therefore, when we write about humans (or any biological organism such as aliens) they must exist in a biological context. They came from somewhere. They're going somewhere. Who they are is the cumulative result of all of the decisions their ancestors made over the last few million years.

If we write about dragons and magic, (to my mind) they must exist in their real world. Dinosaurs had to manage their weight; so do dragons. Pterodactyls, beetles and birds have to work within aerodynamics; so do fairies and hippogriffs. Humans, chimpanzees and gorillas had to work with the biological materials at hand; so do elves and dwarfs.

To me, this is inescapable reality.

Wall of Idiots
Bill Donohue
Ron Paul
Florida Senate race

Links of Interest
Images from Mars
What is light?
Toads detect earthquakes
Victorian sexual scholarship

Disguising a litter box
DIY tips for kids
Snow day projects

Friday, April 2, 2010

All DIY All the Time

(Picture from here.)

Today is DIY day. (Doesn't matter what day it is, now does it?)

So: we have a jam packed set of things to do yourself, think about doing yourself or wonder at someone else doing it.

Sub-categorized for your pleasure.

(Is there nothing paracord can't do?)

Low Tech Library Links
No Tech Magazine
Primitive Ways
Society of Primitive Technology
19th Century Technology
507 Mechanical Movements
Cubely fabrication

Interesting things
Molecular painting
V: The view in a 4 stroke engine
V: Heat activated coffee cup insulation
History of Solar Power
Misanthrope's Guide to the End of the World
Collecting whale snot
The Great Handcar Regatta
Everything tiny

Things to think about other people doing
Sledgehammer fireworks
H2O2 Helicopter

Biosphere III, on the tabletop
Biohacking in your garage

500 LED extreme flashlight
Motor control joystick
Oscilloscope out of an old CRT
Organic LEDs
Star chasing camera
Geiger counter

V: Bladesmith Bob Kramer
Hex coin ring
Handmade rings
Drink can art

Confetti eggs and other Easter crafts
Model Hubble Space Telescope
Travel watercolor palette
Removable wall art
Tree from jewelry wire
"Best friends"
Carved bone fish
Money origami
Howler noise maker
Concrete mushroom yard art
Conference badge recycling
PVC flute
3D Layered drawing
Easy paper kite
Electric guitar
Bogdon box base
Pinhole panoramic camera and here
Printable pinhole camera

Soup can coffee roaster
Converting a fridge for beer fermentation
Potato chips
Stovetop popcorn
Pumpkin bread
Scallion pancakes

Waterproof camera case
Electric bamboo motorcycle

Cadillac dystopic lamp
Garden candle lanterns
Glass beads from broken bottles
Glass cutter from rolling pin and here and here
Wooden lamp

Birch and Aluminum Desk
Adirondack chair
Crutch hat rack
Renovating an outdoor table
Wooden bicycle
Wine cork bath mat
Bow from hardware store lumber

Utilitarian: Tools and Workshops
Treadmill motor for powering tools
Worklight from PVC
Cheap soil moisture sensor
Washing machines
Fume extractor
Carbon fiber tubes

Utilitarian: All Around Living
Paracord stuff: glasses lanyard, staff hand grip, yarmulke, can koozie, camp chair, rescue belt,
Mason bee habitat
Indoor herb garden
Inuit thimble
4 Hour Kayak
Kick sled
Rotary sailing
Timbrel vaulting
Vertical farming
Home carbonation

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Zombie View Cafe


The Book View Cafe authors are delighted to welcome our newest author members...the Walking Dead!

With proven staying power, and back lists of books that have never gone away, awards too numerous to mention, these authors will re-energize and re-shape the cafe in ways never before imagined!

In honor of these new additions to the Cafe line up, the Cafe's front page ( will be dedicated to the finest work of these authors, newly returned to prominence and the surface of the earth.

"With the internet, print on demand and civilization-ending environmental catastrophy bringing so many exceptional authors back to life, as it were, we saw a real opportunity," said Sarah Zettel, Book View Cafe's Managing Director.

When asked why she decided to rise from the grave to join the ebook revolution and zombie apocolypse, Margaret Mitchell said, "I swore, as God is my witness, I would never go hungry again. With Google Maps to help me find the best concentrations of fresh brains, I can keep that promise."

"The fleeing populace is a moveable feast for a young zombie," adds Ernest Hemingway. "If we can use ebooks to help ensure they have short, happy lives, why the hell not?"

But, as always, it was the father of the modern English language who put it best. Said the Bard:

Wall of Idiots
Follow the Money: Funding Climate Deniers
US Chamber of Commerce now opposed by Best Buy
Energy star
Bias in animal studies

Links of Interest
Asteroid Impact vs. Climate Change
Renewable energy from sewage
8 Wonders of the Solar System
Chasing Kuiper objects
Bose-Einstein condensates
Children's toys inspiring scientific breakthroughs
Fat addiction
War on viruses
Comet crash causes creation

Outdoorsy Stuff

Trekking pole techniques
Checking for ticks
Signaling techniques
The self sufficient life

Things to do with Plastic Bags
Pallet chicken coop
Bone necklace
HDD rotary sander
Guitar stuff
Bow and arrow
Translucent concrete
Paracord belt watchband
Useless machine
Tesla coil
Built in bookshelf
LED deck lighting
Explosion box
Cloud chamber