Evolution

The emergence of some feature
Through selection of mutations
Doesn’t happen in one creature,
But across the populations!

Permutations, combinations,
Both additions and omissions,
Lead to phenotype creations
And their rapid acquisitions

Sometimes networks are redundant
And the extras act to buffer—
When mutations are abundant
We don’t always have to suffer!

And environmental factors
May give rise to phenocopy
Where the genes are not the actors
(Yes, it’s all a little sloppy).

So it seems that the initial
View of evolution’s liable
To be somewhat superficial
(Not as much, though, as the bible)

When the pressures of selection
Shape the feature’s distribution,
This determines the direction
Of the change called “evolution”.

PZ writes a very nice post, outlining one of my pet peeves (ok, that’s not his point, but it happens to be a pet peeve of mine), a common misunderstanding about evolution, and (to my thinking) about the broader functional contextualist view, of which Evolution is the most visible example (radical behaviorism is a distant second, but is misunderstood in precisely the same manner that PZ points out for evolution). The misunderstanding is most easily seen in the search for “firsts”–the first human, the first cuttlefish, the first anything. Tony the Fish. Gakky Two-Feet. The firsts. There were no firsts. There were populations.

Evolution

The emergence of some feature
Through selection of mutations
Doesn’t happen in one creature,
But across the populations!

Permutations, combinations,
Both additions and omissions,
Lead to phenotype creations
And their rapid acquisitions

Sometimes networks are redundant
And the extras act to buffer—
When mutations are abundant
We don’t always have to suffer!

And environmental factors
May give rise to phenocopy
Where the genes are not the actors
(Yes, it’s all a little sloppy).

So it seems that the initial
View of evolution’s liable
To be somewhat superficial
(Not as much, though, as the bible)

When the pressures of selection
Shape the feature’s distribution,
This determines the direction
Of the change called “evolution”.

PZ writes a very nice post, outlining one of my pet peeves (ok, that’s not his point, but it happens to be a pet peeve of mine), a common misunderstanding about evolution, and (to my thinking) about the broader functional contextualist view, of which Evolution is the most visible example (radical behaviorism is a distant second, but is misunderstood in precisely the same manner that PZ points out for evolution). The misunderstanding is most easily seen in the search for “firsts”–the first human, the first cuttlefish, the first anything. Tony the Fish. Gakky Two-Feet. The firsts. There were no firsts. There were populations.

Caterpillars?

Oh, HATE!!! Distilled to element—oh, hate; oh, hate; oh, hate-oh!
An idealized form of hatred scarcely dreamt about by Plato
I despise the caterpillars that descend on my tomatoes
And I wish that every one of them would die.

Though I hate them with a passion, and I kill them with devotion
There are others who feel differently—one group had got the notion
They could X-ray one while crawling, and examine it in motion
(While the gardeners among us wonder “why?”)

So they took these little bastards (whose existence is appalling)
And they photographed their innards with an x-ray, while they’re crawling,
For the purposes of science (which I still find rather galling,
And I hold a strong suspicion that they’re nuts!)

But they took the fancy x-rays, and they looked inside the critter,
With a particle accelerator acting as transmitter,
(I’m not certain, but the odds are they announced it all on twitter!)
And his walking starts with movement of his guts!

Yes, each movement that he makes begins with innards forward-thrusting
Which the scientists find wonderful—myself, I find disgusting—
They propose a robot model (which, with luck, will soon be rusting)
Where a soft and gushy robot would be best

And the nasty little bastard who demolishes my garden
And who makes my hope diminish, and who makes my anger harden
And who ought to die a horrid death, if you will beg my pardon…
Is the prototype. I think you might have guessed.

****
Ok, the truth is, I don’t know what sort of caterpillar was used by the researchers. But most of the popular press articles are using the Tomato Hornworm as their example.

I hate tomato hornworms. Hate, hate, hate, hate…. On every level, I hate them. I have found a total of one of them thus far this year… which makes me nervous, because how the hell do you end up with one caterpillar?

But.

Researchers have examined them, and have found a new means of locomotion! Rather like me at a buffet line, these caterpillars lead with their guts, and let the rest of them catch up. Different, as I said, from any other walk.

Of course, the possibility of robotics is being explored. I would bet, without a shred of evidence thus far, that the caterpillars’ contribution is being used to deliver ordnance. Just guessing.

Galileo, again

A re-posting, of sorts–I blogged about this last year, but now the exhibit has started. Florence’s History of Science Museum (now named, appropriately enough, the Galileo Museum) is giving us the finger. Several, in fact. And a tooth.

When overseas 2 years ago, one thing that fascinated me was the varied reactions to the icons of saints in the various churches. The finger of this saint, the skull of this one, the whole body of this one… a pebble from the place where the loaves and fishes miracle occurred… Some visitors rolled their eyes to all, some were in obvious ecstasy about all, and many drew their own personal lines as to which were worthy of veneration and which were just plain silly.

The exhibit at the Galileo Museum is both– amazing and silly.


Galileo’s middle finger. Appropriately.

The mystery no longer lingers:
Found, at last, two missing fingers.
They both belonged, as did one tooth,
To Galileo. That’s the truth.

The heretic had made a fuss
Supporting old Copernicus;
The Earth, he said, each year will run
An orbit ’round our yellow sun;

A statement, in The Church’s sight,
That could not possibly be right–
So Galileo swore he lied,
And nine years later, up and died.

Nine decades later, scientists
With strange things on their “must do” lists
Removed some fingers, teeth, and bones,
Then laid him back beneath the stones.

For years, his parts, though very old,
Were bartered, traded, bought and sold,
Until, in nineteen-hundred five,
Expected parts did not arrive.

The trading, then, went underground—
Until this year. Now, they’ve been found!
Today, his fans may go and see ‘em
At Florence’s History of Science Museum.

(all I had to change was one word!)

Jellyfish!

With surf and sun
It’s lots of fun
To swim at Wallis Sands
Wield plastic tools,
Dig sandy pools
In which to wash your hands

Where you can share
Your picnic fare
With seagulls, if you wish
And now, the place
Where you may face
A giant jellyfish!

A sunny day
The children play
With sunscreen on their faces
With playful dunks
And sand in trunks
And other gritty places

A sudden sting,
A hurtful thing—
The children scream with pain
The swimmers rue
The blob of goo
They call the Lion’s Mane

It’s not often that the coast of New Hampshire makes international news–frankly, there’s not all that much coast there (which does not stop the state from charging two bucks for the privilege of driving the 17 miles from MA to ME–effectively holding Maine hostage from the contiguous US). But when a giant (ok, a fairly small individual for its species) tentacled menace attacks and injures (ok, technically it was dead, and fell apart when the lifeguard tried to collect it with a pitchfork, having never heard the phrase “nailing jello to the wall”) 150 beach-goers, somebody is going to notice.

It is a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, not normally seen so far south, nor in shallow water. I predict that lifeguards will be given a new policy: for jellyfish, use a fishnet, not a pitchfork.

Omphaloskepsis

The recent farewell post by Bora, and some of the other explanations for departures, have got me thinking. It’s not something I do often, or terribly well. But I found a couple spare neurons to rub together, and I am mulling things over. I’m not seriously considering stopping writing–although it is entirely possible that the new world order will make it such that my audience diminishes tremendously. Or not. I really am not that good at predicting the future. But I do know that one thing I want, before the entire internet goes the way of 8-track tapes, is a good, solid, souvenir. A comprehensive book, a best of the three or so years I have been doing this. I liked Vol. 1, but released it at a horrible time for actual sales; vol.2 was thrown together (completely my fault) in too little time. So I’m starting now, with the thought of having something really and truly worthwhile by Halloween or Thanksgiving (Early November would be ideal, I think.)

I’m saying this publicly, because I have said it privately too often and let it slide. I have received valuable advice and offers of help, which (entirely my fault) I let wither on the vine because I was too busy grading papers.

Anyway… 1) I am opening up for good advice, bad advice, and advice that’s not quite sure but willing to experiment. 2) I would really (really) like to hear from you, if you are a fan, which verses absolutely must be part of it, and which verses absolutely should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot humanely. If you would, just leave a comment (positive or negative) in the comments of any that strike your fancy–I’ll let gmail compile for me. And don’t worry about insulting any of them; hell, anyone who likes them all has lousy taste (even *I* dislike some of them)!

Hey, it might give you something to do while SB is on strike. (what? So soon?)

Again, this is not an “I’m thinking of quitting” post–I owe my readers far too much for that; they have made wonderful things possible for me, and it might take me a decade to repay that.

Open Thread For Displaced Pharyngulites

While Pharyngula’s going on strike
You can hang around here, if you like.
Look around, take your time–
No, you don’t have to rhyme;
(And DM? You can go take a hike!)

No, I don’t expect you to migrate here en masse, but I saw Laden invite people, and thought I’d put out the welcome mat as well.

Open Thread For Displaced Pharyngulites

While Pharyngula’s going on strike
You can hang around here, if you like.
Look around, take your time–
No, you don’t have to rhyme;
(And DM? You can go take a hike!)

No, I don’t expect you to migrate here en masse, but I saw Laden invite people, and thought I’d put out the welcome mat as well.

On Social Engineering

I wrote this yesterday, I think, on a comment thread that turned into a tone-fight, so I doubt that more than the half-dozen or so participants bothered to read far enough down to see it. So here it is. A previous commenter had written that he had hoped that people would donate out of the goodness of their hearts, and not need to be rewarded for doing so; I personally would much rather give out a ton of food donated by selfish bastards than half a ton donated by selfless altruists. Besides, I think the latter are mostly found in mythology, anyway:

If we only take donations
With the purest motivations
And our shelves remain half-empty, it’s the hungry folks who lose.
If the sponsors can afford it,
There’s good reason to reward it!
And the altruists can turn their prizes down, if they so choose.
Do not make it any harder
Than it is, to stock a larder,
With a view of human nature based on freely-chosen good!
I don’t care if it looks greedy,
If it helps the poor and needy–
The alternative is hunger, till we give “because we should”.
If a prize or recognition
Brings donations to fruition–
“I’ll increase my odds of winning if I donate lots of tins!”–
You can say that it looks selfish;
I’m not humanist, I’m shellfish!
When we pay for good behavior, sometimes everybody wins!

On Social Engineering

I wrote this yesterday, I think, on a comment thread that turned into a tone-fight, so I doubt that more than the half-dozen or so participants bothered to read far enough down to see it. So here it is. A previous commenter had written that he had hoped that people would donate out of the goodness of their hearts, and not need to be rewarded for doing so; I personally would much rather give out a ton of food donated by selfish bastards than half a ton donated by selfless altruists. Besides, I think the latter are mostly found in mythology, anyway:

If we only take donations
With the purest motivations
And our shelves remain half-empty, it’s the hungry folks who lose.
If the sponsors can afford it,
There’s good reason to reward it!
And the altruists can turn their prizes down, if they so choose.
Do not make it any harder
Than it is, to stock a larder,
With a view of human nature based on freely-chosen good!
I don’t care if it looks greedy,
If it helps the poor and needy–
The alternative is hunger, till we give “because we should”.
If a prize or recognition
Brings donations to fruition–
“I’ll increase my odds of winning if I donate lots of tins!”–
You can say that it looks selfish;
I’m not humanist, I’m shellfish!
When we pay for good behavior, sometimes everybody wins!