Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap days and leap years explained

A great post on leap days, from Bad Astronomy Blog.....

Two excerpts:

"So 1996 was a leap year ....... 1997, 1998, and 1999 were not. 2000 was a leap year, because even though it is divisible by 100 it’s also divisible by 400. 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was. 2100 won’t be, nor 2200, nor 2300. But 2400 will be"

If you think thats all there is to the story, he follows that up with

"This whole 400-year thingy was started in the year 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. That’s close enough to the year 1600 (which was a leap year!), so in my book, the year 4800 should not be a leap year"

Hope that made you curious. Go read the article----it is absolutely worth it. And don't be intimidated by the math----it is simple and logical multiplication, subtraction and addition.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

OK, so I'm slow on the uptake

After receiving an 'E' for 'Excellent' rating from PhysioProf, I should have passed that on to ten other bloggers. I have been remiss. But, better late than never, I am happy to pass on the 'E' to these excellent blogs, listed alphabetically:


90% true

Chris Jordan Photography

Chuurch of Apathy

Drug Monkey
(PhysioProf co-blogs with Drug Monkey on that site; but, the E goes to the site, the site's cool and Drug Monkey deserves props too)

Hyphoid Logic



The Frontal Cortex

[Disclaimer: I post occasionally on Tokatakiya. But it is Robb's blog (I doubt I've contributed
more than 1 or 2% of its content since its inception) and is a fine blog in its own right, so it gets a freakin E.
In retrospect, I should have started a blog back in 2006, invented the 'E' if it wasn't already around, and awarded it to Tokatakiya for its relentless campaign that helped Jim Webb (a huge underdog) beat George Allen (a huge bigoted scumbag) in what turned out to be a crucial win for the Dems.]

Check them out when you get a chance.

William F. Buckley

died today at the age of 82, but the brand of conservatism he championed died a while ago. I was planning to write something on this but why mess with the perfection that is driftglass' article on the passing of Buckley?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A database to beat all databases

If you think (as I do) that genome databases are super cool, wait'll ya get a load of this...

BBC reports that the first 30,000 pages of the Encyclopedia of Life have now been unveiled.
Check out one of the exemplar species pages.....This is SWEEEET!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

And I rarely use Excel when blogging...

This blog has been rated
E for Excellent by PhysioProf!

Of course, since PhysioProf’s blog rates a Double Excellent, I suppose he can walk around handing these things out like copies of the ‘Watchtower’ left on one’s doorstep. So don’t get your hopes up; this blog sucks just as much as it did yesterday. Except, I feel a whole lot better about the suckitude now!

Seriously though, thanks PP. It is much appreciated.

This whole ‘E’ business has inspired me to create a new award, in the light of recent events, for people who show exceptional testicular fortitude. I’m gonna draw on the classic Glengarry Glen Ross theme about what it takes to close the deal (brass balls) and the privilege reserved for those in possession of said BBs, “Coffee is for closers only”, and hereby create the “Closers-Only Testicular Titan Award of the Internets” or COTTAI. Naturally, the winner of the inaugural COTTAI would have to be Abel Pharmboy who live-blogged his own vasectomy!

Now, if there only were a handy graphic that we could use to iconify the COTTAI......

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Captain Obvious is a Nittany Lion

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a Penn State study that concludes “Conservatives just aren’t into academe”. Gee, next you’re gonna tell me that the sun rises in the east. There are, and will be, many explanations/rationalizations/spin proffered for this phenomenon. But I’ll give you the simple truth here: Academe requires an open mind and analysis based on facts, logic and rational thinking, i.e. academe requires liberal thought. Conservatives do not subscribe to liberal thought (indeed they use “liberal” as a character slur). So you don’t find many conservatives in academe. Quod Erat freaking Demonstrandum. I can has Knowbel Pryze now?

But never fear, conservatives, because a new ‘academe’ is rising for you as we speak. In good conservative tradition, your leaders have chosen to just redefine terms and bastardize the truth. Recently, creationists launched their own “scientific” journal called Answers Research Journal which promises to

“… disseminate research conducted by creationist experts in theology, history, archaeology, anthropology, biology, geology, astronomy, and other disciplines of science by providing scientists, students, and supporters the results of cutting-edge research that demonstrates the validity of the young-earth model, the global Flood, the non-evolutionary origin of “created kinds,” and other evidences that are consistent with the biblical account of origins. (Emphasis mine)

Now that is a nice objective journal that lays out the acceptable (or maybe even expected) results of the research right at the outset. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “You can paint it any color so long as it is black”.

I guess all evidences against young-earth etc are not ‘answers’ and therefore belong in the hundreds of heathen, America-hating, science journals such as Nature, Science etc (or should we now call these pseudo-science journals, because, you know, war is peace, ignorance is strength and all that). By the way, while redefining research, why not redefine science too? Oh wait, conservatives are doing that too with the whole Intelligent Design (bowel) movement.

So I guess it will not be long before ‘academe’ will be flush with conservatives and all sanity will be circling the drain.

Friday, February 22, 2008

SMU gets stuck with the Dubya Lie-bury

Boy, Southern Methodist University can’t catch a break---well at least the faculty, staff and students cannot. Just when they thought they had finally gotten the stench of Ponygate behind them, the SMU Board of Trustees got them the gift that will keep on giving; no, not a bad venereal disease but worse.

SMU gets to put make-up and disguise on the national embarrassment that has been Dubya’s presidency (and by many accounts, his life itself). Yep, SMU gets to house the G. W. Bush Presidential Library.

Yeah, you’re not the first or only one to speculate on whether that’s an oxymoron. And as you will see from this link, thanks to Dubya's dubious executive order, you will have access to only that information that Dubya and his turd-polishers want you to see. I think lie-bury is the appropriate term for this farcical repository of nonsense.

Don't you think 200-500 million dollars is a lot of dough for a building that should contain “My pet goat”, a few coloring books, and a doodle-pad that includes “Condi, can I go wee-wee now?”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All the loaf that’s fit to pinch off?

The NYTimes has got to be kidding, with this article on John McCain. First of all, a candidate’s relationship (any kind of relationship) with a lobbyist only matters if it reflects in his/her record as an instrument of abuse of power or conflict of interest. This is not substantially evidenced in the article. Secondly, if McCain had an alleged romantic relationship outside of his marriage that would be a lead story---if you were a tabloid rag, not a reputed journalistic institution.

There are several important issues on which McCain needs to be questioned, such as his recent aloofness from campaign finance reform and conveniently-altered stance on (of all freaking things!) torture. Not only did the Times choose not to put up a well-researched challenge of McCain on any of these issues, they actually chose to make allusions to some of these issues in such an innuendo-out-the-other article (apologies to Michael Feldman) about an alleged affair. Now, the conservative spin machine can dismiss all of these issues as being part of “That NYTimes-librul-media misrepresentation column”

Finally, the conservative outrage machine can shut the hell up. The Times did the republicans an enormous favor. Their candidate, not in good graces with the ultra-conservatives, now looks like a martyr as being the target of the “vast-left-wing-conspiracy”. Also, this is supposed to hurt his candidacy? The nauseating gush you all heard this morning was all of the (corrupt and sexually-hypocritical) ultra-cons and neo-cons collectively wetting their underwear in excitement without the benefit of Viagra! “Our candidate in bed with a lobbyist? Oh, I love it when you talk like that! You mean figuratively and literally?” O-face! O-face!

Dammit. Did Murdoch buy the Times along with the WSJournal last year and not tell anyone about it?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

World change week?

Did I miss a memo about early spring-cleaning or something? First, Kosovo declares independence and divides the world, opinion-wise anyway. Then Castro resigns, and it is unclear who will lead Cuba and how. Finally, Pervez Musharraf's allies were defeated in general elections in Pakistan and, here too, it is unclear who will lead Pakistan and how.

I have this vague sense of unease. The last time countries started lining up on opposite sides due to events in the Serbia/Kosovo region of the world (Sarajaevo), it didn’t work out so well. And if you thought Pakistan was a mess under Musharraf, you really don’t want to see it under leadership that is weak or uncertain.

As for Cuba, picture the “I can has cheezburgur?” lolcat with Cuba saying “I can has demo-crazy?” --- apropos, as it is probably wishful thinking.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Voter Turnout in Democratic Primaries

For those interested, I have written a couple of posts, over at Tokatakiya, on the amazing voter turnout in the democratic primaries this year. The first one has some interesting numbers once you get past my initial rambling. And I just posted an update to that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dick Cavett’s remembrances of Bobby Fischer

In “Was it only a game?”, Dick Cavett gives us some insight into, and pays tribute to, the deeply troubled genius that was Bobby Fischer. Here are three excerpts:

It must seem strange to people too young to remember that there was once a chess champion — of all things — who became arguably the most famous celebrity on earth. And that his long-anticipated match against the reigning Russian champion, Boris Spassky, was broadcast and watched worldwide as if it were the Super Bowl, except that chess drew a much bigger audience.


At one point I asked him what, in terms of thrills, the chess equivalent might be of, say, hitting a home run. His answer: “I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.” There was a trace of a chill in his laughter.


I’m surprised in writing this how much emotion there still is in the subject for me. There’s no story like it: genius kid, precocious, plunged into triumphant victory, money and world fame — no one under 30 should be subjected to fame — then gradual decline into raving lunatic. “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Heckuva job, Congress!

I see that the Roger Clemens circus is in DC today. In case you all aren’t aware, two independent nonprofit journalism organizations recently reported that the current administration made 935 false statements over two years to lead this country into war on fabricated pretenses. You bring that up in Congress and the place goes so silent you could hear a cockroach break wind. However if it appears that some whipped-cream-topped-turdbucket like Clemens or Bonds may have been less than honest about what they were jabbing into their butts, they put together congressional investigation faster than you can say “haemorrhoid rage”! Good job, Congress! Let’s ignore the massive head-wound that’s bleeding the country to death and get right on attending to that paper-cut on the pinky.

There’s a lesson here (for average citizens) which we must not forget. Lying is bad; cheating is bad; but when you lie and cheat then you really piss off members of the government --- because that’s their specialty and how dare you muscle-in on their action?

Besides, the whole performance-enhancement issue is totally bogus and hypocritical anyway. But that rant will have to wait till later.

A car that runs on air?

Apparently it is in the works, according to a BBC report. The last couple of lines are the best though:

Mr Negre says there's no issue with safety - if the air-car crashes the air tanks won't shatter - they will split with a very loud bang. "The biggest risk is to the ears."

Will it come with airbags (or should I say reserve tanks)?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Endless forms most beautiful--- Charles Darwin

The Guardian has, as promised, put forth a page full of free links to essays and extracts relating to the Origin of Species. Enjoy!

At the very least, it is worth reading Darwin’s Recapitulation and Conclusions, if you haven’t already. Actually, it is worth reading it even if you have read it before--- I can read several of the passages over and over (and have done so) without wearying of them. I’m sure they are favored by many others too--- after all, Sean Carroll used “Endless forms most beautiful” for the title to his famous bestseller book.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

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 law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

It is tragic that a century and a half after this seminal work was published, even with the benefits of all the subsequently accumulated molecular and geological evidence, critical examination, commentary, analysis and repeated validation, there are so many people who choose to deny the validity of (and actively try to abolish the teaching of) evolution.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Why Darwin Matters, by Richard Dawkins (This is a must-read, folks)

2 posts in one day---that’s some yakking. At this rate this site will turn into a blog or something……Anyway, I just saw this piece in The Guardian and felt the need to alert my vast, non-existent readership instantly.

An excerpt:

If any reader knows of an idea that has a larger explanation ratio than Darwin's, let's hear it. Darwin's big idea explains all of life and its consequences, and that means everything that possesses more than minimal complexity. That's the numerator of the explanation ratio, and it is huge.

Yet the denominator in the explanatory equation is spectacularly small and simple: natural selection, the non-random survival of genes in gene pools (to put it in neo-Darwinian terms rather than Darwin's own).

You can pare Darwin's big idea down to a single sentence (again, this is a modern way of putting it, not quite Darwin's): "Given sufficient time, the non-random survival of hereditary entities (which occasionally miscopy) will generate complexity, diversity, beauty, and an illusion of design so persuasive that it is almost impossible to distinguish from deliberate intelligent design."

And here’s the foreword to the article:

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species changed the world. Here Richard Dawkins introduces a 34-page celebration of the book and its author, available FREE with tomorrow's edition of the Guardian”.

I’m looking forward to reading that too.

Fortunate Son: In a deluded society, image is indeed everything.

From reading all the post-Superbowl adulation bestowed upon Eli Manning (well deserved for his play on the field) you’d never guess that he was just as unprofessional as Randy Moss on at least one very significant occasion in his life. Moss, of course, held the Raiders hostage by playing only when he felt like it, simply because he didn’t like it there and wanted out. And Moss was (correctly) roundly criticized for that.

Well, when Eli came up for the draft in 2004, he made it openly clear that he would not play for San Diego (who wanted to pick him and had the rights to do so). So he essentially blackmailed the Chargers, left them no option to keep him, and forced a trade (to New York who wanted him and where he really wanted to play, by all accounts). So San Diego has to wonder what would have happened if Eli had decided to man up, act like a pro and play where he was drafted (which EVERYONE else drafted into the NFL has to do) instead of hiding in his father’s large shadow like a whiny little bitch. People who argue that SD got equivalent value in return are merely rationalizing, and furthermore they miss the point---which is that Eli essentially got to a free agent from his first day in the NFL. That is unfair, plain and simple. And we’ll never know how his blackmail of the Chargers changed the course of NFL history. Maybe the Chargers could have won a couple of Superbowls by now, or maybe another QB may have won a championship or two with the Giants instead, or maybe none of that would have transpired. Doesn’t matter; but it does matter that someone strong-armed the system and broke the rules. So forgive me if I’m less than impressed when I hear all this garbage about preserving the integrity of the game, league etc. They bent the rules for Manning, didn’t they? The NFL is so good, and works so well, because it has been set up largely to be fair and competitive. What if more hot prospects start playing this game? ----naah, I won’t play there…..uh-huh, I think that’s the place for me…..don’t bother picking me ‘cos I ain’t signing….Why shouldn’t every other draft pick enter the league as a free-agent, like Eli essentially did? You want to deal with the ensuing chaos? But Eli gets a free pass, chiefly because he had the good fortune to spew forth from the appropriate loins. In an objective assessment of history (whether that will ever be popularly documented or not, the truth doesn’t change) Eli’s accomplishments will always be tainted because it is based on a foundation of hypocrisy and cheating.

But this is nothing new---and relatively minor in the larger scheme of things. We live in a country where intellectually and morally bankrupt wastrels can ascend to the highest offices in the land simply because they happened to be fortunate sperm. And then, having ascended to the highest offices and having demonstrated their ineptitude in spades, they can still count on the support of millions of stupid lemmings for reasons that elude, well, reason.

So listen up kids. If you want to break the rules and get away with it, the key is to keep that “Aw shucks” charm, that “down-to-earth folksiness” while you go about merrily doing your thing, the rules be damned. You’d be surprised what you can get away with. And oh yeah, if at all possible, try and be born to rich, white and unscrupulous parentage; there is still no substitute for that.

I have pages I want to write about that bully extraordinaire Bobby Knight bequeathing the head coaching job at a major state-funded university, mid-season, to his son---filial succession is apparently not an uncommon trend at least in college basketball circles nowadays ---but I am too tired and too disgusted. Can we be too far away from having a House of Lords and House of Commons in this country?

By the way, Bobby Knight is a spoilt brat, an arrogant sorry excuse for a man, who operated through intimidation and fear-mongering. His basketball success doesn’t mean or validate a thing. Heck Stalin and Castro were greatly successful bullies in their realms, and yeah, they had legions of protégés/disciples/followers who swore by them too---so don’t give me that ‘his ex-players are very loyal to him’ crap about Knight. It makes me sick when they call this pathetic bully a great man, teacher and coach. You want to know who’s a great man, teacher and coach? John Wooden. We need more John Woodens and fewer Bobby Knights.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

War and peas

A couple of years ago there was an interesting report regarding some unusual genetics in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which showed that something beyond Mendelian genetics could be operating in this species. Very exciting stuff---not that it would suddenly invalidate all of Mendelian genetics, and not because it was just another cool biological mechanism (the more one looks, the more interesting mechanisms one discovers in nature) ---but because the implications were really revolutionary. There appeared to be a trans-generational genetic ‘memory’ of some kind; plants carrying only mutant versions of a gene (called hothead) seemed to yield progeny that carried normal versions of that gene. This didn’t make sense in the context of anything currently known about genetic inheritance. Anyway, some follow-up work published last year suggested that the results may have been artifactual----the mutant plants showed an increased propensity for cross-pollination (generally these plants self-pollinate) and therefore the progeny may have indeed inherited the normal copy of the gene from normal parents, not mutant ones. There is a really nice article in the latest issue of The Scientist that details the story to date. Here’s the exciting part----the report indicates that the original observations may not have been just artifacts and that something interesting is indeed going on in these plants. I’m looking forward to new developments in this story.

Incidentally, the same issue also carries a nice editorial that describes how well the scientists in the Arabidopsis research community have handled the discourse over the past couple of years.

NOTE: As you’ll find out when you click on the links, you need to register with The Scientist to read the articles. But registration is free, simple, and well worth it.