Tuesday Tetrapod: Budorcas taxicolor

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 24, 2009 22:05 in tuesday tetrapod

This week's proper Tuesday Tetrapod is an animal that rather confused Kit and I when we saw it at the San Diego Zoo: Budorcas taxicolor, or the Takin

Burdorcas taxicolor

B. taxicolor CC-BY-NC by Flickr user Silvain de Munck

Believe it or not, this thing is not that closely related to a muskox. Despite appearances, mitochondrial dna and genetic profiling has indicated that this animal is a caprin bovid, that is, a member of the "goat-antelope" subfamily. The closest living relatives to these guys are, improbably, sheep. The degree to which they appear like muskoxen is a compelling example of convergent evolution.

Interestingly, the "golden" phenotype is hypothesized by some to be the inspiration for the Greek myths about the Golden Fleece. B. taxicolor is IUCN "Vulnerable", due to over hunting and habitat loss, with a population decline of 30% in 24 years.

Tuesday Tetrapod: Pelecanus occidentalis

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 24, 2009 16:24 in tuesday tetrapod

This week's Tuesday Tetrapod will take a small turn from the dismal list of endangered and vulnerable species in light of a critter that's been seeing some good times of late. Last week Two weeks ago, the US Fish and Wildlife service removed today's tetrapod from the US Endangered Species list. So here we have it — Pelecanus occidentalis, or the Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis

P. occidentalis by Flickr user MikeBaird

Yes, the generic name is spelled with an "e'"! It is the smallest of the pelicans, living primarily on the eastern coasts — though, to be fair, "smallest" in this context means "only" a wingspan of 1.83 m. Pelecaniiformes are diagnosed by the large, distinctive pouch occurring under their beaks. Congratulations, Pelican, on your rebound!

150 Years

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 24, 2009 16:22 in evolution , biology

I've been a bit quiet lately, mostly because of work I've been putting into Velociraptor Systems. Last week's skipped Tuesday Tet was especially tragic, as it was half-composed the Wednesday before that!

I'll get that entry, and second one, up later today. However, it's also good to note that today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species, by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life". It is arguably the most significant single text to change how we live, with evolutionary based insights leading to models of heritibility and research into the genome.

I'll link you to Dawkins discussing the subject on CNN's site (note: they either misquoted Dawkins on "over 300,000 million years", or the publication was in error; that number equates to 300 billion years, well older than our universe). But I'll close this entry with a quote:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and Dependant on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost certainly implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Darwin, Charles. "On the Origin of Species". 1859.

Tuesday Tetrapod: Varanus komodoensis

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 11, 2009 01:18 in tuesday tetrapod

As promised, part two of the double feature (though both of these posts are going to be "up" before either has pictures). Taking a glance over the archives, I realized I've neglected lepidosauria since August! In a step toward correcting this criminal neglect, I bring you the largest non-archosaurian diapsid alive today: Varanus komodoensis, or the Komodo Dragon

Varanus komodoensis

V. komodoensis

Sadly, phylogentically correct terminology means I can't use the decidedly more impressive epithet of "largest extant lizard" in the crocodylomorphs and turtles, such as Dermocheleys. Even the word largest is difficult — as there are elapids that can reach 6m. However, we can unequivocally say that the Dragon of the Komodo Isles is the most massive varanid lizard, and in fact the most massive member of extant lepidosaurs.

skull comparison

Note the highly kinetic skull morphology

This unusual size has garnered it an unusual degree of familiarity with the public, as well as their rare vertebrate condition of conditional parthenogenesis. They have also been a test bed for studies on unifying lepidosaurian venom characteristics; while their bite was once thought to be lethal by virtue of sepsis, it appears that nonlethal initial bite may be envenomating (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810883106).

Like most varanids, Komodos have been shown to be highly intelligent, and capable of recognizing individual humans in zoos — even behaving differently around familiar vs. unfamiliar keepers.

The Komodo Dragon is IUCN classed vulnerable

Tuesday Tetrapod: Ailurus fulgens

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 11, 2009 01:06 in tuesday tetrapod

Wrapping up our streak of non-lepidosaurs (who needs charismatic fauna anyway?), we look at a creature that is not commonly known to be a musteloid — Ailurus fulgens, or the so-called "Red Panda":

Picture of A. fulgens

A. fulgens. Picture (CC-BY-ND) by Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar

Yes, despite the name, the "Red Panda" is not an ursid, but is in fact a musteloid, being most closely related to the node comprised of weasels, otters, raccoons, and skunks. Ailurus owns its confusing taxonomic history due to superficial similarities to felids, and the effect of its common name on public perception ("panda" is possibly derived from a Nepalese word meaning "eater of bamboo").

Roughly the size of a large cat, its appearance and size are reminiscent of its sister taxa procyonidae, or the raccoons. While hunting is illegal, deforestation is leading to population declines, and the Red Panda is listed as IUCN Vulnerable.

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.

SVGs and Browsers

Posted by tigerhawkvok on November 05, 2009 20:15 in computers , programming , websites , internet

First, I realize I missed this week's Tuesday Tetrapod. I'll put up a double-feature next week — but I've been trying to meet a personal deadline and didn't quite have time to give the TT the attention it deserved. So, let me touch a little bit on SVGs and, thus, in a roundabout way, what's been occupying my time.

First, "SVG" stand for "Scalable Vector Graphic". As the image at the right demonstrates, zooming in on raster graphics such as bitmaps, PNGs, or JPGs introduces artifacts. Further, if you want to reuse the image, you cannot scale it beyond a certain resolution. Vector graphics, on the other hand, are very much like text in that their descriptions are essentially plaintext describing how lines arc. The lines arc the same way no matter how zoomed in you are, so they are rendered on the fly by computers. This means that they are infinitely resizeable, and retain fidelity limited only by the physical pixel sizes on your monitor.

Now, the problem is, of course, Internet Explorer. It's not the only problem, but the main one. See, IE doesn't support SVGs at all. Just can't do a thing with them. While Firefox has finally passed IE6 in market share, IE still holds ~65% of the global market (though on technical sites, its market share is closer to 20%). So this was a game-stopper to SVG adoption.

However, in October Google released the SVGWeb library, which is a simple Javascript library that renders SVGs on IE in Flash, and displays them as a Flash document. Suddenly, in one blow, SVG has a nearly universal level of application. If NetApplications is right, a combined implementation has a 98.88% market share penetration. Now, this isn't quite right, as Flash still doesn't support 64-bit browsers, so users of Internet Explorer 64-bit are out in the cold — but most users of 64-bit operating systems, even those that use IE, use the 32-bit version, so that's pretty negligible.

Now, with that hurdle done with, we have a few other hoops to jump through. First, of Gecko, Webkit, and Presto-based browsers (read: Firefox, Safari + Chrome, and Opera), Gecko and Webkit each incompletely support external SVG resources with the two tags that should work, <object> and <img> (Presto properly supports both). Gecko does not support <img> at all, and instead displays the alt-text; Webkit supports <object> but manipulating sizes and such does not work.

Now, I wanted to use an SVG-based logo on my site, and I was fed up with this implementation problem, so I wrote up a simple PHP library to get SVG working conveniently on multiple browsers. Now, to use an SVG, all you have to do is


Where everything in the square brackets is optional (do note, however, that if no height or width is specified IE will default to 100px by 100px). So, for example, on this implementation test page, the logo with the yellow background is just in:

	    <div style='background:yellow;width:500px;height:600px;'>
	      <?php dispSVG('assets/logo.svg','logo',450); ?>

That's it. Nice, simple, clean and cross-browser. All you have to do is extract the library to your server in a location, edit the $relative variable in svg.inc if it's not in the root directory, and paste the following into the head of your (X)HTML document:

require('PATH/TO/svg.inc'); // edit this path
if(browser_detection('browser')=='ie') echo ""; 

Once you've done that, you're done! Just call dispSVG whenever you want to display an SVG. By giving the ID or class calls a value, you can address your SVG as normal in you CSS. Nice and easy! It's not quite perfect, as CSS background only works with Presto (of course. Go Opera!), but it works for most uses.

Now, all that is because I'm working on creating a site to advertise my website creation and deliver built-to-order computers for customers. The computer building system is almost done, requiring some modification on the last four system types to give configuration options. Then I just need to generate some content for the other pages, and it'll go live!

So, I ask (what readers I have) a favor: Can you please check out the site, and give me any stylistic, functional, or content critiques, reccommendations, or comments you may have? With luck, soon it should have the proper domain http://www.velociraptorsystems.com/!

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.

Telcos: Yes, they really are that wretched

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 28, 2009 01:12 in computers , politics , internet

Oh man, this article from ArsTechnica just says so much. The skinny:

Monticello, Minnesota was getting bad internet service. The voters passed a referendum to have a municiple, fiber-to-the-home service. TDS, a local telco, sued. And sued. And sued some more. And after stonewalling the government for long enough, they unveilled today a 50 mbps symmetrical fiber-to-the-home service for all residents, at $49.95 per month.

Sample two:

Such stories aren't limited to Minnesota suburbs, either. Just last month Telephony Online ran a piece on how Cox cable prices had "dropped considerably" since Lafeyette, Louisiana lit up a fiber system of its own.

"Cox froze the cable rates in Lafayette, and they didn’t freeze the rates in other areas," said Terry Huval, director of the muni project. "We figured our citizens saved over $3 million in cable rates even before we could offer them service."

via Ars

Big surprise, we don't have enough competition and when we suddenly get it, hey presto, prices drop and service improves — even if the government (albeit local) has to inject competition into the marketplace.

So, first, this really drives home the whole "Telcos are retarted and kinda vaguely evil" point, second, we do not have enough broadband competition, dominated by two or three carries, covering 75-80% of customers.

Third — does this have an analogue I'm missing? Hm... oh wait. A goverment-sponsored public option is supposed to do the same bloody thing. You know, force competitive rates among insurers. Lower prices for Americans. Etc. But naaaah, we've never shown that'd work. Oh wait.

Yes, there's more to the health care bill than that, with conservative estimates sponsored by the America's Health Insurance Plans (read: insurance lobby) even showing a 47% decrease in premiums WRT today's levels with a no-PO bill. But it's what gives the bloody thing teeth!

Tuesday Tetrapod: Buteo jamaicensis

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 27, 2009 19:12 in tuesday tetrapod

For today's Tuesday Tetrapod, we take a bit of a break from the depressing round of endangered animals and turn to Buteo jamaicensis, or the Red-Tailed Hawk:

B jamaicensis

B. jamaicensis. Photo (CC-BY-NC) by Flickr user Minette Layne

B. jamaicensis is the most common accipitrid on the west side of North America. From above, they have a distinctive set of red tail feathers, and a dark patagial bar on the fore edge of the wing. Below, the tail is pale with a hint of rust Below, they vary depending on color morph. On juveniles particularly, there may be a messy black band on their bellies, with multiple bars on the underside of the tail that fade with age.

Juvenile B jamaicensis

Immature B. jamaicensis, photographed on the San Diego coast.

Red tails eat small reptiles, birds, and rodents, up to a maximum of about four kilograms in weight. They are readily trainable when young, and are the most common falconry bird in North America. They are rated IUCN Least-Concern.

More Net Neutrality (or, how Telcos buy Votes)

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 27, 2009 13:14 in computers , politics , internet

Oh, net neutrality. As you may know, the FCC proposed rules for net neutrality last week and opened the stage up to commenting. Here are the proposed rules:

  • Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice
  • Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement
  • Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network
  • Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
  • A provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner
  • A provider of broadband Internet access service must disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking

Now, I do have some issues with this, including the framework for "reasonable" management:

But overall, I feel like this is a goo, large step forward. In my opinion, net neutrality rules should be quite simple:

  • ISPs may not discriminate, manage, inspect, or otherwise treat any set of data over their network in any way that is not applied unilaterally to all data over the network in an identical manner. Random fluctuations in network reliability are permissible, and subject to analysis by a p-test to confirm random distribution and other tests to determine such fluctuation is protocol-agnostic.
  • Access to content may not be restricted or controlled in any manner, unless such content comes from an IP address with zero legal content. At that time, restriction to access of that IP address is at the discretion of the ISP, but not mandatory.
  • None of these principles affect the legality of actions taken on the internet.
  • Violations of these principles are subject to a $100,000 fine (per instance).

In other words, I'd love to see network neutrality legislation that favors a "dumb pipe". But OK, that's fine, like I said — this is a good step. Who couldn't favor it?

It turns out that John McCain (and though it's not explicitly mentioned here, a number of other Republican representatives taking large donations from ATT, Verizon, and/or Comcast) have a bone to pick:

The money trail is actually painfully obvious. But, it doesn't change the fact that the openinternet.gov site is being deluged with anti-net-neutratliy comments from those getting their pockets filled by TelCos. The FCC is seeking out comments, and it's important that you comment — either the quick way on openinternet.gov's discussion page, or make a more "official" comment by submitting a filing on ECFS (Proceeding/Docket Number "09-191").

Help keep the net open! If you ever have doubts, just consider for a moment how hard it is to change your internet carrier ... and if they decided to, say, cut off Google from you, what your recourse would be. That is what Net Neutrality is about.

The New Efficiency

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 26, 2009 11:54 in computers

This morning I was part of the Microsoft "New Efficiency" developer track meeting and I thought I'd use this as an interesting blog post in addition to a way to take notes.

I was part of the Windows Server 2008 R2 track — while I'd have preferred to be in the Windows 7 track, considering the project I've been working on this is arguably more useful. Unsurprisingly, I am the only one I can see running linux (Nike, my Asus EEE PC 701 series notebook [name after theGreek winged goddess of victory] has insufficient space to run any versio of Windows effectivley, and even Ubuntu can be cramped). So, without further delay, Windows Server 2008 R2:

  • 905: Starting the program
  • Bulk of content applies toWindows 7 additionally. It's noticable that theUI has vestiges of the Win7 interface. I'm not sure if the lack of Aero is a product of the computers or the OS
  • Scales to at least 256-socket solution
  • 64-bit only. Makes a lot of sense and about time.
  • Win 7 64 and R2 are essentially the same kernal -- but64-bit only. It seems like this implies Win7-x86 is a backport.
  • DWM is optimized, to about half the memory usage
  • Native VHD support &mash; they're mountable an showupin disk management.
  • There's a live demo, switchedright into server management and handle it from disk management.
  • There's a .NET API to access virtual disksdirectly. Interesting.
  • The native mounting means the filestructure can be used without launching the VM
  • Services won't start until they're needed, finally — such as, until they're attached (ie, bluetooth service). Sample service on cfx.codeplex.com
  • Essentially, it seems like services don't have to be manually set to manual, if the programmer codes things properly.
  • "Server Core" is a GUI-less Server, so the whole thing is more streamlined
  • 926: Server core and ASP.NET
  • Server core loads up a terminal session. "No GUI" is a bit misleading, because there is still a mouse and such -- but it's just one large command prompt, essentially.
  • By far most components can be disabled -- out of a list of perhaps 50 items, only four were enabled.
  • The server terminal is case-sensitive. Mixed blessing, but I'm used to it anyway.
  • Notepa is installed as the primary text editor. It needs Emacs ;-)
  • By the way, this presentation was being streamed,so you might be able to watch it if you're interested.
  • Still, the percentage bars are horribly misleading. XKCD anyone?
  • Speaking of XKCD, Geocities is shutting down today. Back up your websites with HTrack if you want to save your nostalgia.
  • Impressive &madsh; the server core instance was using only 350 MB of memory while applications were up.
  • 937: Powershell
  • Powershell now has remoting capability. I'll have to see if it's built into Windows 7, might be able to start scripting directly into that.
  • There's Powershell integrated scripting environment — nicely readable
  • get-command is a nice command definition, a mini-man.
  • invoke-command can run a session entirely remotely, to the extent that commands defined on the remote machine are not accessible locally.
  • I like the Powershell capabilities. get-process is like a mini-top
  • Not all methods are defined when remoting
  • On the other hand, you can use a PSSession to essentially ssh/telnet into a machine, which leaves most methods available.
  • Blazing fast coverage, but looks like the initial talk for Server 2008 R2 is done.

Next: Parallel programming


Tuesday Tetrapod: Andrias davidianus

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 21, 2009 03:06 in tuesday tetrapod

Between catching up for missed work last week and a personal project that's not quite ready to go live, I didn't realize that I completely missed Tuesday. So, though two hours late, here is a "Tuesday" Tetrapod for this week -- Andrias davidianus, or the Chinese Giant Salamander.


A. davidianus. Image (CC-BY-NC-ND) by Flickr user Silvain de Munck

Andrias contains two species of giant salamander, of which A. davidanus is the largest in the world, reaching lengths of up to 1.8 m. They belong to the family Cryptobranchidae, with the lone (monotypic) sister genus Cryptobranchus.

Cryptobranchids undergo an incomplete metamorphosis and thus have some paedomorphic (neotenic) traits, such as lidlessness and no tongue pad. They feed by asymmetrical suction feeding, accomplished by a flexible mandibular symphisis that allows the animal to depress only one side of it's jaw (for a description and images of this interesting feeding mechanism, see Cundall et al., Asymmetric suction feeding in primitive salamanders, Experientia 43:1229-1231 (1987), fig. 3). They primarily respire through their skin.

Decline in water quality and human predation seriously threatens their populations, they are IUCN Critically Endangered, with an 80% population decline in the past 45 years. They are rare enough that I was only able to find three photos of them (with the Creative Commons license) on Flickr.

Taking the "Lobby" out of Congress

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 14, 2009 13:11 in politics

My friend Rob and I were discussing policy last night, and so here are a few policy proposals:

The Jennings-Kahn Campaign Finance and Advertisement Reform

Campaign contributions are restructured in the following way:

  • An office of campaign finance reform is established to handle transactions, funded using up to 5% of total donations.
  • All donations are capped at $5,000.
  • Donations are sent to the CFR Office, with the donator's SSN and name of recipient. Tying the SSN to the donation restricts repeat donations.
  • Once per week, the candidate is issued funds by the CFR Office, with no trace information.

Additional funds up to the five percent will also finance a three-judge panel to hear suits on advertisements up to six months before an election. If an advertisement is deemed to be substantially different in content due to the proximity of an election, the broadcaster is fined equal to a two month, five-day-per-week, prime-time advertisement campaign according to the media and density of the complaint advertisement.

This would substantially reduce the power of lobbies, and the increasingly hyperbolic and misleading commercials.

Update later on how to force scientifically competent legislation.

Tuesday Tetrapod: Okapia johnstoni

Posted by tigerhawkvok on October 14, 2009 00:01 in tuesday tetrapod

This week's Tuesday Tetrapod brings a cervoid giraffid: Okapia johnstoni

O. jonstoni. Photo by Flickr user ZacharyTirrell.

Commonly called Okapi, they are the only non-giraffe giraffids, and family giraffidae is the most basal extant outgroup to cervoidea. Despite appearance evocative of a zebra, the first cranial analyses in the early 1900s correctly identified the okapi as giraffids. They share the long tongue with G. camoleopardis, which given their smaller size, gives them the curious award of being the only mammal capable of licking its own ears.

Okapi are shy in the wild, and despite "only" being near threatened, they were first photographed in the wild in 2006. They are native to the Congo area.

«Previous   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14  Next»