Paralysis of Choice

Posted by tigerhawkvok on January 01, 2010 14:46 in General , misc science , public science

I've had some down time, but not posting, what gives?

Well, it's not to say I've not had work — but the fact of the matter is it's difficult to work without my primary sets of files an such. So, while I can work, it is almost certainly more efficient to wait until I end my visit with the family tomorrow and return to San Diego. But this merely adds reasons as to why I should be posting, but haven't.

I give you the paradox, or paralysis, of choice. I have so many ideas knocking around in my head that I can't decide which to commit to ... keyboard? So, instead, Twitter has been getting some degree of linkspam and random commentary. But, topical subjects wait for no man. As is virtually a requirement, therefore, I give you ten significant events of the past decade in science. Farewell, naughts! Into the 10's!

  1. Kitzmiller v. Dover smashes ID into a fine powder. Creationists continue to ignore it.
  2. China proves to be a veritable treasure trove of non-avian dinosaurs, providing many, many feathered theropods that changes the way dinosaurs are drawn.
  3. The Large Hadron Collider is finished, then breaks. Some physicists propose the Higgs boson is working backwards in time to keep it from working. It is fixed, and is currently ramping up in power.
  4. An Inconvenient Truth brings climate change into the mainstream conciousness. Cue debate from both sides here (but regardless of your position, it *was* significant).
  5. Stolen emails from HadCRU contribute to the derailing of the Copenhagen talks, despite demonstrations the mainstream interpretations were false.
  6. The chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or B.d) steps up its affects across amphibian populations.
  7. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers begin their 90 day missions. They are currently on day 2189 and 2168 of their missions, respectivley.
  8. Photons from SGR 1806-20, 50,000 lyr away, hit us and fried some sattelites.
  9. Persistant antivax movements lead to an outbreak of mumps in Brooklyn.
  10. NIF was completed, with ignition tests due to begin this year.
  11. Obviously this isn't a complete list. Any other interesting bits of science I missed?

    And Happy New Year, everyone!

Chytrid fungus in plethodontid salamanders

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 18, 2009 16:47 in General , biology , research , misc science , herpetology

Yes, I know I failed on the Tuesday Tet. I know what it will be (and will be a double-feature next week), but I couldn't bring myself to do a short entry without some research first.

Also, the entry on the basal theropod (DOI 10.1126/science.1180350) will be coming. More importantly though, I wanted to note that my good friend Sara Weinstein had her first paper published in Copeia today. You can view the abstract at asihcopeiaonline.org ("An Aquatic Disease on a Terrestrial Salamander: Individual and Population Level Effects of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, on Batrachoseps attenuatus (Plethodontidae)" DOI: 10.1643/CH-08-180). I'll post a nice summary of it in an few days, also. Hopefully that will be somewhat illuminating, as I've known about this project (and helped a little bit) for 3-4 years now!

Now, I just need to get myself in gear and get *my* paper out. 9 months is just embarassing.

Randall Munroe does it again

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 13, 2009 23:08 in General , anti-science

Really says it all.

You, Data, and the Internet

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 10, 2009 12:25 in General , computers , internet

This says it all:

A Day in the Internet

Created by Online Education

Atheism, Protheism, Theism, and Debate

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 07, 2009 21:22 in General , religion

So, today when hitting up the blogs (in-between bouts of productivity), I ran across this post on SkepChick (amusing fact: guys write for skepchick too).

The nuts-and-bolts:

Honestly, I'm extremely bored with the god/no god debate. I don't care. Really, I don't care. Believe whatever you want about god(s)(ess)(es). It doesn't matter. Sure, I think it's all a bit silly, and I don't buy into it, but I know plenty of really smart people who do. And I know a few really smart skeptics who do... a couple who are even *gasp* Christians!

Unless you're using your religion to spread evil -- like killing your daughter for talking to the guy you didn't choose as her husband or trying to pass blatantly bigoted laws denying groups of people their basic rights, or trying to teach my kid that dinosaurs were here just a few thousand years ago and that The Flintstones are based on a true story -- really, just thinking that there might be a deity isn't an intellectual crime in my mind.

Religion isn't above scrutiny, but I don't think it's necessary to mock the religious and spew hatred at them for merely believing.

Michael Shermer just wrote a whiny article on not beating up the believers, but I really loved Brian Thompson's article over at Amateur Scientist, and highly recommend you read it after answering today's quest

What's your take on the atheists vs religious "war"? Do you think we should be more tolerant? Do you think we should be less tolerant? Does it matter?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

While in principle I agree, I feel that factually this is not a tenable position. The fact of the matter is that religion influences politicians, and thus directly impacts everyone's life. Whether you're atheist, pagan, wicca, asgardian, jewish — what have you — you have the right to not by tyrranized into the view of a Christian majority. If the majority was any other religion, then the minorities would still retain the right to avoid tyranny by the majority. It is insane that religious viewpoints can dictate rights in any manner. Pick your favorite debate here.

I'll even define a term: "protheists". This is an evangelical theist, someone that beyond mere "belief", tries to assert that belief onto others by evangelism, policy, etc.

The fact of the matter is that atheists (and, for that matter, theists) should speak out against religion in the public sphere. After all, think of last year's nativity scene in Washington. Would a theist prefer Zeus, FSM, and Isis represented alongside their nativity? Or skip out on it altogether?

It's a simple matter of equality. And while religion pervades our government, it's unobtainable, virtually by definition. So we should continue to debate, loudly, against religious-induced ignorance. Here's a good benchmark: see when there's not a frenzy in the media when a president *doesn't* mention their deity-of-choice (ie, the Abrahamic god). Till that day happens, there's too much religion in our politics.

However, casual faith? People who may or may not go to church/synagogue/what have you? Eh. That's generally not harmful. I think it's counterproductive, and bothers me from an efficiency standpoint, but I know plenty of people like that and I give it a resounding "meh". It's about as relevant as people who hunt-and-peck with single fingers staring at a keyboard. A pretty glaring waste of time in my opinion, but doesn't hurt anyone. (In my opinion, it's already a weak form of atheism with cultural overtones, but that's a different post).

Zooseum Redux

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 04, 2009 18:31 in General , biology , misc science , public science

I realized that the Zooseum has the flaw that on wet, cold, days, neither aspect of the zooseum would attract customers. However, this problem is easily rectified by having an underground portion of the zooseum.

Located centrally under the zooseum, you can locate the food court and a few stores (with, of course, others by the entrance/exit). Throw in some paths with moving walkways to connect exhibit to exhibit, and arial enclosed connections for nearby exhibits (think Birge-LeConte, or parking structure-airport in L4D's "Dead Air").

This provides an all-weather aspect to the attraction, and means that unlike most zoos, the hours of operation don't need to be strictly confined to animal activity. With hidden paths, lighting does not need to account for disturbance to the animals, as the interconnects can be well-lit, but being underground, should provide little to no animal irritation. Though animal activity will drop off, all that becomes needed are suggestions or notices that there will be reduced animal activity after a certain time can be made, and with longer operating hours, the zooseum should see a higher profit than a standard zoo *or* museum.


Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 03, 2009 00:05 in General , biology , misc science , public science

Zoos are awesome, and so are museums. So, I wonder, why has no one taken the obvious step and combined natural history museums and zoos?

I think the way you do this is that the physical layout of the "zooseum" echos a phylogenetic tree. Different branches are linked up by aerial cable cars, giving a nice set of sightlines while preserving the message of evolution and interrelatedness of animals. Along these branching paths, there are interspersed buildings with fossil representations and extinct members of lineages.


Sample layout. Red lines represent potential arial paths.

In addition to this being a largely natural layout for the animals and fossils on display, this also helps instill a proper phylogenetic way of thinking for visitors. Thus, aviaries would be most closely placed to crocodile and alligator enclosures, and between the two would be exhibits on non-avian dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Additionally, finally, Dimetrodon would be placed in fossil exhibits on the ways to the mammal section of the "zoo", and any oceangoing mammals (ie, dolphins or porpoises, with whales being obviously unfeasible) would be most adjacent to hippos, pigs, and cervids, and bovids.

Despite the "unusual" layouts mentioned in the last paragraph, much of the layouts are quite natural. The cats are together, birds of prey are together, snakes are together (and closest to varanids), etcetera. This also provides the unique opportunity to provide an insect/arthropod exhibit that presents relations of these generally underdescribed (both in the literature and in the public) animals.

This "zooseum", then, is effectively a one-stop shop for the natural world. The unique display mechanism and unique content could also provide a draw for personnel, and good merchandising opportunities. The purpose of the museum portions would be more education than research, with (therefore) few real fossils and mostly casts, emphasizing comparative biology and morphologies. The aerial paths connecting various groups could be centered around the amniote split, acting like a hub.

Perhaps this entry was kind of rambly, but I felt like this is a nifty idea, and I wanted to post it — any thoughts?

Better late than never?

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 11, 2009 01:04 in General

So looks like the twin Tuesday Tetrapod posts will squeak in past midnight, but they're going up tonight. I just reinstalled my operating system to the release version of Windows 7 Ultimate (I was running build 7100 till last night), so I've just regained full functionality. Keep your eyes peeled for the update.

Moving webhosts ...

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 31, 2009 02:35 in General

I'm moving webhosts, so this message is part notification in case of downtime, and part a test for myself to see when the new host is live.

Glenn Beck Vs. Amphibians

Posted by tigerhawkvok on September 24, 2009 22:43 in General , politics , news

Ok — ignoring everything else, if I had had any respect for the train wreck that is Glenn Beck, I'd have lost it after this:

Apparently, throwing frogs into boiling water to make your point is OK. It's possible he didn't actually keep holding onto one ... in which case he's just shamming boiling frogs? Which is also really screwed up. Yeaaaah ....

UPDATE: Nate Silver gives an analysis of Glenn Beck, and what he represents.

Energy efficiency, cars, and CAFE

Posted by tigerhawkvok on September 11, 2009 18:08 in General , politics , energy

I was thinking today about automobile mileage standards, and like nine in ten Americans, I believe in increasing fuel standards.

Recently, Obama pushed for an increase in standards — large by American standards, but the 2016 goal will be 10 MPG behind Europe and Japan's 2008 standard:

On May 19, 2009 President Barack Obama proposed a new national fuel economy program which adopts uniform federal standards to regulate both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions while preserving the legal authorities of DOT, EPA and California. The program covers model year 2012 to model year 2016 and ultimately requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per US gallon (6.63 L/100 km; 42.6 mpg-imp) in 2016 (of 39 miles per gallon for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), a jump from the current average for all vehicles of 25 miles per gallon.
Source: Wikipedia.

So, throwing my voice into the veritable shouting match, this is what I'd do to increase the standards in a realistic way:

  1. Increase the 2016 fleet-average goal to 40 MPG.
  2. Based on current CAFE standards, and the 2016 goal standard, fit 2010 — 2015 standards to intermediates (linear)
  3. Beginning in 2017, institute an annual increase of 2 MPG in standards, with this increase to be re-evaluated every ten years, or an automatic re-evaluation if more than 75% of vehicles fail to meet the standard for 5 consecutive years. This will prevent increases from exceeding technological ability.
  4. For every commercial vehicle that falls short of this goal, a state/federal tax of $1000/MPG (rounded up, so 0.1 MPG -> 1 MPG) is imposed on the vehicle up to a faliure of 25%. Further faliures are taxed $2000/MPG, rounded down (0.8 MPG -> 1).

    This heavily penalizes vehicles that are "gas guzzlers". Thus, an 18 MPG car in 2016 fails by more than 25% of 40 MPG (30.00). The first 10 MPG is penalized $10,000, and the next 12 MPG is penalized $24,000, for a total of $34,000 in taxes. In 2016, it is completely unreasonable to have any car whatsoever at 18 MPG, but a rich person (the sort of person that buys a Hummer already) will pay for it in taxes.
  5. Cars that exceed this target gain a $500 tax credit at the dealer per 25% (compounded) they exceed it by.

    So, for example, the 2010 model Prius gets 51 MPG best. This is better than 25%, so gains an immediate, at-the-dealer $500 rebate. The Chevy Volt, however, if it actually gets the 230 MPG rating, would get a [50, 62, 78, 98, 122, 153, 191, < 238] 7*$500 = $3,500 instant rebate at the dealer. These aren't back-breaking to the state or national government rebates, but they'll help a lot in keeping interest up in these hybrids.
  6. These standards are based on the highest EPA rating given to a specific car with a unified standard.

I think measures like this could go a long, long way toward encouraging efficiency in the auto market, and decreasing tailpipe emissions. While many of these will be moved to power and manufacturing plants, better capture and conversion systems, in addition to the overall efficiency at the end of the car and at the plant, will result in net lower energy usage and fewer emissions. As a byproduct? More energy security, too!

Too True

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 31, 2009 15:03 in General , news , paleontology , misc science

Click on the picture to see the whole thing.

Click for whole comic. Via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Alas, too true. Also, read today's comic. Also, far too true. That and "feature creep" on papers.

To make this a bit more substantial, how's this for some interesting news: scientists have found microstructures on a fossil feather (40 MY old) that indicate it was iridescent. Nifty!

Cable News and Valley Girls

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 19, 2009 12:47 in General , news

What the ...

Cable news networks have gone retarted. Just sayin'.

Star Trek - Sunday

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 12, 2009 01:26 in General , sci-fi

And the wrap-up photoblog from the Trek Con! I'll have some commentary up later this week, I think.

Be sure to check out the original photoblog post over here.


Zachary Quinto / Spock [ 2009 Movie ] / Sylar [Heroes]


William Shatner / James T. Kirk


William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy / Spock


Natasha and I before leaving, with Photoshopping to remove the insane amounts of red. Go mixers and curves!

You can read Natasha's impressions of Saturday and her impressions of Sunday — she's definitely more on the ball about posting than I am!

Star Trek - Saturday

Posted by tigerhawkvok on August 10, 2009 13:50 in General , sci-fi

Quick photoblog of the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention — to be updated as I upload the remainder of my photos still on my camera, an a real blog entry later. Sadly, the often long distance and often poor lighting means these aren't the best photos ever...

Currently, these photos are from Saturday only:


Linda Park / Ensign Hoshi Saato


Voyager Panel — Left to Right, Robert Picardo / the Doctor, Roxanne Dawson / Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres-Paris, Ethan Phillips / Neelix , Tim Russ / Lt. Cmdr. Tuvok.


Random Klingons and random cute girl dressed in 2009 movie EVA/Skydiving jumpsuit (pretty amazingly done!)


George Takei doing signatures (Sulu)


Some random nerds.

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