Evolving pseudo-creatures in computer simulation to run a short course

I love the idea of simulating evolution through computer models. The purpose of such an exercise is not so much to prove that evolution happened, or to prove that complexity can evolve from simple rulesets (though that’s certainly important), but to show that randomness and flexibility in solving tasks can create novel approaches that are more creative even than anything that intelligences like ourselves have worked out.

This particular example shows some behaviours from creatures built out of four types of blocks that emulate hopping, running and dragging themselves along a course, in a simulation where creatures that make it across a trial field quickest are rewarded by having more offspring in subsequent generations.


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Saw nothing at all like this on my flight to Minneapolis

They didn’t seat me in row 666, there were no pamphlets on salvation, and the seats — cramped though they were — were a hell of a lot more comfortable than those pews look. And frankly, the pilot’s rapping wasn’t nearly good enough to cause the spontaneous generation of breakdancing angels.

Via Everything Is Terrible, where they know their quality whargarbl.

Staver/Barbar: California law turns sexual abuse victims into gays and transgender

The specific laws they’re talking about, that are preventing kids from receiving counselling? The “change therapy” laws of course, which forbid religious “therapists” from trying to un-gay-ify kids. Their reasoning is that children who are predated upon by pedophiles have no recourse but to go with any gay feelings they have thereafter.

The premise that gays and transgender folks end up “that way” because of abuse as kids is patently wrong. And even if it was right, it is no justification for subjecting children to the mental and emotional abuse that reparative therapy represents.

I especially like that they’re trying to change the name “reparative therapy” to “change therapy”. It ain’t going to work. We already know that it doesn’t work [pdf], and we know what appropriate responses are to homosexuality.

It’s an incorrect and damaging response to a problem that’s entirely fictional. We don’t even have to get into the motivations these people have to attack homosexuals for their orientation — yes, the thin and threadbare rationale they have for their judging homosexuality as a problem is, of course, their religious beliefs. Otherwise they wouldn’t have called the ban “bullying and abuse” — devaluing both words, in the face of the very real abuse they’re being told they can no longer perpetrate.

Baby turtle eats raspberry

I’m posting this to prove a point, on top of the obvious squee and funny factors.

That point is, human beings can be complete monsters sometimes. Treating cute little turtles as sport, as though there was any contest between the turtle and an automobile. For shame. Look at that turtle, having trouble eating a raspberry! Look at its raspberry beard! They are adorable and nigh helpless and people still swerve to hit them.

Maybe humanity doesn’t deserve to survive this global warming nonsense we’ve brought on ourselves. Bah.

IQ test exposes the myth that is ‘g’

The idea that there’s a single scalar value that measures anything like “general intelligence” (“g”), commonly known as “IQ” or “intelligence quotient”, has been pretty much blown out of the water by this comprehensive study by the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute.

Our attempt to answer [the question of how to quantify relative intelligence] dates back more than five years, when Roger [Highfield] encountered work that I had conducted with Adrian [Hampshire] at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge on a reliable way to carry out cognitive tests online so we could monitor rehabilitation after brain injury, the effect of smart drug trials and so on.

Roger wondered if we could use this test to carry out a mass intelligence test. Drawing on earlier data from brain scans, Adrian and I came up with a series of tests which we knew would trigger activity in as much of the brain’s anatomy as possible, combining the fewest tasks to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills.

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Animation student’s thesis: Pale Blue Dot

Adam Winnik produced this lovely animation for Carl Sagan’s poetic musings on our place in the cosmos, as his school thesis. From his video’s description:

I’ve been enrolled in illustration at Sheridan College for the the last 4 years and this is my final thesis project. I have always thought of Carl Sagan’s writings as “scientific poetry” since they lack the cold touch that science is often cursed for having. I think Sagan’s words resonate more than ever, and will continue with each generation until the human species “wakes up”. The first time I heard this excerpt from his book “Pale Blue Dot” it literally changed my life, and I hope it does for you too. Enjoy.

Pale Blue Dot – Animation from Ehdubya on Vimeo.

I was especially amused by the “derp”‘s all over the holy man’s holy book.

@Felix3333 pointed out something I missed though — if this was the only example of human culture you saw, you’d think the human endeavour is mostly only man’s domain. This picture shows why you might get that impression.

Tryptophan isn’t to blame for your food coma

Even at Thanksgiving, even as a child, I was always “that kid”, who couldn’t leave well enough alone when someone said something blatantly false, or worth questioning and examining further. My father kept admonishing me to be on my best behavior for company, which invariably meant not challenging unevidenced or ridiculous beliefs.

This was one of the ones that filtered into my subconscious and I even caught myself thinking this very thing a few years ago, til I was corrected on it. All because I was asked to turn off my skepticism as a child.

I guess I’m posting this to tell you not to squelch people’s skepticism of strange unevidenced beliefs even if those beliefs are seemingly harmless.

Unless you know there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn, let the walking Snopes database do their thing, because as annoyed as the person may be who is corrected, they’ve actually had a valuable service done to them even at the cost of a little holiday peace. A service that helps insulate people from making mistakes, and having factoids filter into their brains as though they were facts, which might introduce errors in their reasoning later in life.

And if there’s absolutely no goodwill to burn at the Thanksgiving table, and you must suffer the tyranny of someone spewing factoids, both harmless and harmful? Well, consider a smaller and more intimate Thanksgiving meal next year.

But yeah. Sorry for the tangent. Turkey doesn’t cause food comas. And I wish I could spend the American holiday with my American friends and family, so enjoy your time with them. And I hope you find a balance between the factoid-spewers and the fact-checkers so you can all enjoy your meal.

Sun vomits forth giant prominence

Think about the scale of this particular flare, which was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory yesterday. I know it’s hard to imagine, with it zoomed in like this, but this is absolutely immense. Eyeballing it against a “size of stars” image I have up on the wall, I’d say both ends of this flare are at least as wide as Wolf 359, a distant red dwarf star. And it’s probably dozens of times wider than Earth.

It’s a good damn thing this flare isn’t aimed anywhere toward us. Sure, our magnetosphere could probably shield us, but not without repercussions.

As Troythulu and I were discussing on Twitter when he linked this, it’s absolutely no wonder to me that people would worship the sun, a tangible, massive, and powerful entity, without which life couldn’t exist here. Compared to other religions, I totally get sun worship.

More Republicans believe in demonic possession than global warming

Yeah.

Alternet reports on a Public Policy Polling Hallowe’en poll (pdf) and cross-references this poll on global warming:

A staggering 68 percent of registered Republican voters stated that they believe demonic possession is real. Meanwhile, only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in another equally if not more scary natural phenomenon: climate change.

I would say it’s more scary, because it’s real. And the evidence provided by actual scientists is ironclad.

The scientists are unanimous, as long as you include actual climate scientists and not geologists or meteorologists or other pretenders at authority on the complex subject of climate. And yet, only 45% of all people agree that scientists generally agree about global warming. The misinformation efforts by liars like “Lord” Christopher Monckton are working.

To make matters even worse, 49% of Democrats also believe in demonic possession, even while 85% of Democrats say there’s solid evidence for global warming. It’s not that they’re smarter, it’s that they’re only marginally less prone to superstitious belief and more prone to trusting scientific evidence.

I’d say “let the mouth-breathers secede”, but it’s not like they’re all Republican secessionists.

Some pinkification I can live with… for now

A while back, someone on Twitter pointed me to this GoldieBlox Kickstarter project, excited that finally, someone was doing something to get young girls interested in engineering. In amongst the glut of male-targeted building toys like K’nex and Erector Sets and LEGO, there’s hardly any such thing for girls. None of these toys are inherently boy-oriented (so long as you omit the obvious pun), but all of them are always always ALWAYS advertised for boys with special playsets to build things that boys are enculturated to like, like cars and helicopters and space ships.

There’s often a girls version that is pink, because girls simply aren’t picking up those “boys’ toys”. This offering involves princesses and ponies and none of the things boys “like”. Look at K’nex’ Tinkertoy offering for girls, with its uniquely colored blocks and princess figurines. Or LEGO’s foray which makes the minifigs “pretty” and all the blocks pastel and designed so you can make a French cafe.

These attempts at girlifying this class of toys — let’s call them engineering toys — are often quite maddening in the face of this culture, that has since the turn of the last century wholly entrenched rigid gender roles from the Victorian era. In this culture, where once we looked like we were actually coming out of the woods when LEGO produced ads for their unisex product that were absolutely wonderful and starred little girls as often as little boys, all doing the same things — but have evidently since backslid to an enormous degree. In this culture, where even three year olds can grok the transparent gendered marketing.

So I can totally see why some might lash out at yet another example of pinkification to try to get girls interested in engineering.

But in the case of GoldieBlox, I can live with it.
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