Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shrimp and holes in the net

I just noticed this great post on Pharyngula which fills in the details on the mantis shrimps with built in Polaroids.
And here's a bit more on the Internet black holes. From the article:
"Sometimes certain blocks of the Internet weren't reachable at all, Katz-Bassett reported, while other times only traffic coming from particular portions of the net fell into what's called a "routing black hole." When that happens, packets sent from one computer to another -- whether a request for a web page, or an e-mail message -- are somehow diverted to the wrong location, where they're lost forever." I love that "lost forever" - who says they won't turn up later? Anyway I guess lost forever is a common fate for information packages, just ask your average spermatozoa.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Deep biosphere confirmed?

The archaebacteria show once again that when it comes to toughness and resilience, they are the undisputed champions. Already having demonstrated their capacity to thrive in saltier, more acidic, more alkaline, lower oxygen and hotter environments than more supposedly evolved organisms, they have now been shown to also cope with having 1.6 km of rock and sediment stacked on top of them.
This made Science so I expect its pretty rigorous but it’ll get a fair bit of scrutiny. I haven’t yet read the full paper but they are apparently claiming a methane based food chain so where is the methane coming from? Is it supposed to be from the sediments or what? I hope to see some good follow up on this soon. I myself favour a deep ocean network origin of life model so I wonder if this could somehow support that. And how might such bugs have evolved?

Friday, May 23, 2008

More satay prawns anyone?

It comes as no surprise to find that Australians are more likely to claim non-existent food allergies. I often hear people make such claims based on exactly no medical evidence. Unfortunately such claims are rarely challenged, by me or anyone else. Still, the next time I hear “I’m allergic to…” I think I’ll respond with “did you know around 9 out of 10 people who say they have a food allergy actually don’t?”
The ensuing lull in conversation will enable me to guzzle more satay prawns with equanimity.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The secret, or how to extract money from foolish, ignorant people

Apparently when positive thinking fails, there is always litigation. I find it difficult to find words to describe the rage that pernicious drivel like The Secret incites in me. Its partly the wilful self delusion of the credulous nitwits who pay good money for this rubbish, partly the mindless promotion from educated, advantaged people who should know better, but go along for the ride (yes you Oprah), but mostly its the avaricious, calculating reptiles that use their no doubt considerable talents to make the world a stupider and more selfish place. I hope the fruits of their success turn to ashes in their mouths when they consider the foolish shallowness of their doctrine. Arggh.
If anyone wants me I'll be in the angry dome.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stirring the pot

When i saw this piece of fluff journalism in the Age, I thought it might be just the thing to get the unfaithful at RDnet worked up into a white hot froth, but i must say it was even more successful than I expected - a comment from the Dawk himself no less! (#100). I think the comments clearly show that when it comes to solving the energy crisis, we athiests dont have any better ideas than anyone else.

paperback autowriter + more

I was surprised to discover that books written by computers are already with us, surely its only a matter of time before Roald Dahl's Great Automatic Grammatizator becomes a reality, in fact I think Tom Clancy has already signed up.
On a similar note, its good to see Asimo taking up challenges in the arts.
New research overturns conventional scientific thought on a perennial mystery of the sea, FT brings us up to date on the freak wave phenomenon.
Still in the ocean, I never thought I’d envy mantis shrimps, but I wish I could see through their eyes. Coming on top of the recent discovery that birds may actually be able to see the earths magnetic field it raises interesting questions about the sensory data input that we call vision.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mapping music

I love music. To play a musical instrument and sing is one of life’s great pleasures – but what makes it so enjoyable and why has music itself come into existence? At the risk of unweaving the rainbow I like to worry at these questions like a dog at a bone (or possibly a cave bear). It is often said that music is the language of emotion, we all know it can easily bypass the higher faculties and pierce the heart. It seems paradoxical then that modern music can be mapped due to its highly mathematical structure. In terms of biological information, it seems to be complicated data generated by our brains that doesn’t map to anything in the real world at all. The structure of music was observed by Pythagoras over 2000 years ago and since then we have managed to place music in the western tradition on an increasingly sound mathematical footing such that most musicians worldwide now are all tuned to the same pitch. But, though usually a strict rationalist myself, I think music is perhaps the most outstanding example of something that cannot be explained entirely rationally. It is possible to describe in minutest detail a piece of music in terms of score development, key, timing or frequencies without giving any idea of its emotional narrative. This suspension of rationality also seems to apply to the performance – the less you think the better generally, whether listener or performer. The payoff is a feeling of transcendence as religious leaders know very well. Evolutionary theory would suggest our music is a side benefit from having evolved brains that self-reward pattern recognition – a highly adaptive trait for us humans, but I doubt well ever be able to explain exactly why major keys sound cheerful and minor keys sound sad.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rosenhouse unmasked

I've been a regular reader of evolutionblog for some years now but I think Jason has absolutely outdone himself with this outrageous posting following his well deserved tenure approval http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2008/05/what_i_really_think.php.
If the post wasn't funny enough, the comments are hysterical.
Apparently this is an example of Poe’s law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe
which predicts that no matter how absurd a spoof, some folks will fall for it.
Top work Jason, the comments are a reminder that we have nearly as many cranks, suckers and humourless bores within the ranks of the so called rationalists as without.