Meet Ida the adapid, your ancestor

Here it is — a pristinely preserved fossil of the most recent common ancestor of all primates.

This lovely, 47 million year old specimen, Darwinius masillae, has been nicknamed Ida, and is presently being touted as “the missing link” on just about every bloody news outlet out there, whilst simultaneously throwing creationists into a tizzy. My problem with the media on this, is that every single fossil ever discovered is a “missing link” of sorts, being an intermediary between both its direct and ancient ancestors and its direct and distant descendents. At one point, during Darwin’s day, when the fossil record was virtually untapped, we had to draw conclusions about life’s family tree based on very little evidence. These conclusions made specific predictions, that links would be found showing transitions between one major form and another, and eventually fossils like Archaeopterix and Tiktaa’lik were found and filled those gaps neatly.

You’d think this would be enough to silence the naysayers. In fact, some especially retarded creationists occasionally state that with every new fossil found and added to the fossil record, evolution’s claim gets WORSE, rather than better, because there are now “two missing links where there used to only be one” that have to be filled. I hope I don’t have to explain why this is ridiculous on its face, but if anyone honestly (and earnestly) challenges me on this, I will be obliged to explain.

Richard Dawkins also posted this link on Twitter, describing how eyes evolved in primates. There goes another creationist trope. Not that they’ll notice.

Running out of time today to post that mini-review of Star Trek, and that political post is still far from done, so this will have to do for today’s post.

Update: Ed Yong explains how Ida really DOES change *everything*. I never knew!

And here’s a video with a little more info than the above media-blowjob.

Quick life update

In order to keep from missing a day in my promised at-least-a-post-a-day month of May, here’s a quick update on how my weekend has gone.

Visited Sara’s mother’s yesterday, for lasagna, with a full house of folks partaking. I walked away with a Wii game borrowed from Sam, Sara’s sister — Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. It’s a strategy RPG along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle. Played it a bit last night and a bit more today, and while it’s horribly unforgiving, even on Easy (if you lose any unit in the first few fights at least, it’s instant game over), it pales in comparison with FFT or Ogre Battle with respect to the depth of the engine itself. So it’s a bit of a disappointment so far, but I’ll probably keep playing and see if it grows on me.

I’ll be going to see Star Trek tonight at 9 — can’t wait. Sara and Mark will be going too, so I anticipate we’ll probably stop someplace and chat about it for a bit afterward. The free tickets I got (obtained using points accumulated on my credit card rewards program), include popcorn and drinks, but we went to Bulk Barn and got a stash of candy anyway. Abby has forewarned me not to drink too much while watching it, because during the last half hour I won’t want to leave to hit the can, so forewarned is forearmed.

I plan on spending the next hour before we leave working on the (what’s turning out to be massive) post about the current NS election and breakdown of our riding. I’m sure the effort I’m putting into this thing is inversely proportional to the interest anyone’s taking in it — nobody around here seems to care that there’s an election on, and those that do already have signs out front for their chosen parties, so I’m anticipating there are a lot of party line voters around.

So hopefully I’ll be posting my thoughts on Star Trek and possibly completing that election blog tomorrow, plus whatever random crap I find on the intertubes as usual.

What, ‘miracle’ isn’t explicit enough?

My favorite master debater and yours, eponymously known on this blog as Bob (“Me” in some earlier threads’ comments — I call him Bob because of his chosen fake e-mail, bob@hotmail.com), sent along this picture that sums up his position on religion.

I have nothing against God, it's his fan club I can't stand

This would make a great antidote to some of the more galling bumper stickers and emblems I’ve seen around here. However, I don’t 100% agree with the underlying implication — that God exists. Since he probably doesn’t exist, why would anyone who lacks faith have ANY kind of problem with him? You might as well make the negative assertion that you don’t have a problem with the Tooth Fairy. It’s a useless, facile, self-evident statement. Of course, not everyone feels as I do — some people DO believe in the Tooth Fairy despite a total lack of evidence, and a good deal of direct evidence suggesting the Tooth Fairy is a sham perpetrated by adults on their kids.

That bears repeating: 'I think you should be more explicit here in step two.'

That bears repeating: 'I think you should be more explicit here in step two.'

Two recent news articles suggest that the number of aToothFairyists — err, atheists, sorry — are growing rapidly in the States, a fact that probably cows the religious Right. Atheists, humanists, rationalists and free-thinkers are less afraid of “coming out” than they once were, a phenomenon hopefully spurred by those of us who have taken it upon ourselves to vocalize that which the silent minority were already thinking (or actively hiding for fear of retribution).

Even on college campuses — you know, where real science is taught, kinda like the science in the comic to the right — the norm is to build and facilitate religious groups, on your student-fee dime. Finally, though, atheists are getting a piece of the action. Campus churches are probably never going to go away, mind you, but this is a step in the right direction. If people with Bronze-age belief systems have the right proselytize on the public dime, then so too should those of us who demand that we look at the “big questions” with as empirical or scientific an eye as we look at other fields. That we atheists are not an organized group should no longer serve as a stumbling block keeping us from equal rights.

Sony Pictures CEO admits to gross ignorance

Via Slashdot: Michael Lynton is a guy who “doesn’t see anything good having come from the internet, period“, because of the piracy that has apparently eaten into his profit margins.

I contend that what has eaten into your profit margins is the fact that casual movie-watchers are now better equipped thanks to new technology to identify stinkpiles of movies BEFORE shelling out big bucks — between movie-goers texting others to warn them away, and people “trying before they buy” (Note to self: check out Zeno Clash), now fools and their money have a chance at sticking together a while longer. At the risk of self-incrimination, I personally have a library of legally bought DVDs made up of movies that I felt were worth my money, every one of them having been watched prior to purchase — either by watching at a friend’s when they owned or rented it (when will THIS be a crime? Or does it fall under “public performance”?), or having (*horrors!*) downloaded it prior. Movie pirates are made up generally of two groups — people who had no intention of ever buying it to begin with, and wouldn’t have watched it if the option wasn’t free, and people who like to know ahead of time whether they’re buying something worth more than one viewing.

Copyright laws are coming to a head in North America, and this is one picture I can’t wait to see. The old world, outmoded business models of the RIAA/MPAA crew, versus the new digital era where duplication and redistribution of data costs so close to nothing as might as well be free, for both parties. Entrenched and paid-for interests in government will likely side with the old world model, because that’s where the money is, so that side can afford the fight. I always tend to root for the unfunded underdog in these things.

Green Day Blank CD-Rs -- bloody brilliant, guys!

Green Day Blank CD-Rs -- bloody brilliant, guys!

I see it as a fight along the same lines as open source vs proprietary software; save for the fact that the copyright example is dealing with the same base component on both sides of the fight (e.g. the movie or song), they both have differing ideas as to where the monetization of the product should be made. OSS / new copyright model proponents see the monetization of the product coming from supplementaries — for OSS, manuals, support, and physical distribution; for the copyright fight, concerts, paraphernalia like t-shirts, or even blank CDs with printed labels. (Never mind their great music, I love Green Day just for doing this.)

Never mind that blank tapes were going to destroy the industry, television and VCRs were going to destroy the industry, then blank CDs and DVDs were going to destroy the industry, and now the internet is going to destroy the industry. Adapt or die, guys. Either keep coming up with technology or law based ways to keep your old model on life support (at the risk of causing your audience to desert you), or figure out new ways to make money off the product.

Today’s lesson: men and women ARE different

Since we’re talking a bit about gender norms and sexist behaviour lately, here’s a fascinating study Jodi pointed out to me yesterday regarding what people perceive as sexist.

Jodi has reservations with some of the questions asked, feeling as though if there’s not a preexisting stereotype regarding the behaviour in the question, it’s not really sexism, or it might not be perceived as sexism. The example she gave me was that if someone were to see me typing madly away at my keyboard and say “wow, he’s good with computers, too bad he probably sucks at fishing,” while it does follow logically that heavy computer users might not get as much outdoor activity as others, the fact that there’s no preexisting stereotype suggesting that computer users are bad at fishing means that the statement is not a prejudice so much as a logical deduction. If someone were to see me and say “my, what a good looking man, too bad he must be bad at fishing”, if there was a pre-existing prejudice against hot men regarding fishing ability (like the example used of intelligence), then that would be a sexist comment.

One of the more surprising results to me is the fact that more women than men find misandry to be sexist. I suppose it’s not surprising that they’d be more attuned to sexism since the women’s liberation movement is probably still fresh in most women’s minds, but it’s quite surprising that men ignore sexism against them as often as they ignore sexism against women.

Wait, is it sexist to say that men are predisposed to turning a blind eye toward sexism as a whole? Studying this stuff always feels like you’re walking into a trap.

Open letter to Oprah re: Jenny

As a follow-up to my recent Oprah post, here’s an open letter to Oprah asking her to reconsider giving Jenny McCarthy a voice on her own show. The money quote:

Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.

Please, Oprah… read this. Childrens’ lives are at stake, without hyperbole. It would be absolutely reprehensible to let her spout her ill-founded beliefs to an audience as huge and as credulous as your own.

Everything sounds better auto-tuned

Rachel Maddow hosted the Auto-Tune The News folks’ video as a special web-only extra, probably because she’s featured in the Ron Paul segment. Now that’s kick-starting a viral video!

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Well okay. I don’t think my singing voice could be saved, but Katie Couric is suddenly worth listening to!

This one’s #3; here’s #1 and #2.

Open-Source Software Shout-Out

(OSSSO?)

Here’s two great bits of code that’ll never get attribution from my workplace, as they’re being used on internal-facing projects, so I wanted to give them shout-outs here where someone might actually notice.

First is a pure DHTML-and-Javascript date picking applet, simple but efficient and well-documented for any beginner Javascript programmers, which I’ll be grafting into a helpdesk type ticketing system. It’s a wheel that gets reinvented over and over, but I particularly like this implementation, as it’s rather low on resources, themeable to match your site, and does exactly what it should do and nothing more. A number of open-source products have that ethos: do one thing, but do it extraordinarily well. The end product, if done extraordinarily well, can be reused by other components in the operating system. In fact, if you’re running Linux, almost all of the apps you use daily are mere GUI frontends to command-line utilities that predate them.

Secondly, there’s a great chat applet I’m implementing at work presently built out of — get this — Javascript (AJAX), PHP, MySQL, Flash, and Ruby. I’ve already hacked out quite a few features in it, such as the ability to private message, in order to prepare it for widescale use in the office. That’s another great thing about open source software — if it doesn’t suit your needs, you’re free to modify it, as long as when you redistribute it (*if* you redistribute it — if you keep it within the company, you can turn it into spaghetti if you want!), you include the source code and changelogs indicating who did what.

I actually had a fight with one of my higher-ups over that fact once — and I went to the mat for OSS. His stance was that a business could not rely on open-source software without exposing itself to liabilities, and thus we should only be using BSD code. I countered that we weren’t redistributing anything, and the only requirement is that we deliver the code as well upon redistribution of the program, and we could even sell modified forks if we chose, with impunity. I don’t think I necessarily won the debate, but I know people who actually know the law about this stuff would side with me — if not with every nuance of the argument I made, which honestly I can’t remember any more. I do know that my stock in the company is up (lately at least), and I’m not hurting for having argued on the side of the long-haired smellies, so I’d consider it a victory.

One true time I hold to, MySQL will always go on

I just quoted Celine Dion. Oh my. On behalf of all of Canada, I apologize for her existence.

The prognosis is much less grim than it once might have been for MySQL, in the wake of Sun being bought out by rival database company Oracle. Monty Widenius, who is to MySQL what Linus Torvalds is to Linux, has founded the Open Database Alliance with a handful of MySQL-based companies, in a move that will insure against any Oracle underhandedness that might come up (though that is obviously not their stated goal).

These are the guys you’re going to look to for a fork of MySQL, if Oracle decides to squash it. And that is the beauty of open source software. No matter the intentions of a business toward a piece of software, that software will live on.