Animations of urogenital development

I found these on youtube, a couple of nice cartoony animations of the development of the urogenital system. This is one of the weirder modules in organogenesis, I think; many strange things go on that are relics of ancestral states. We actually build three pairs of kidneys—pronephros, mesonephros, and metanephros—and throw each one away in succession, except the last. Both sexes form paramesonephric (or Müllerian) ducts, in blue in the animation, and these form the core of the female plumbing, but again, males basically throw it away and use a more primitive duct (the mesonephric or Wolffian ducts, in green). It’s a bizarre way to construct an organ, but what’s going on is that we have two systems, excretion and reproduction, tied together in ways that constrain the other’s development, and each is building on elements of the other.

It’s in French, but that shouldn’t slow anyone down. It’s easy to figure out what “paramesonephrique” must refer to, for instance.



Look at it as voluntarily flagging their impairment

Now Phil is trying to kill me—he sent me this link with a knowing smirk, plainly telling me that he knew it would raise my blood pressure. People, think this stuff through: if I were found dead in my chair, one clawlike hand clutching my chest, my face in a rictus of agony, and there on the computer screen in front of me was an email chortling over giving me apoplexy, the police would come calling, and they wouldn’t be cheerful. My family, amoral godless atheists all, would probably put out a hit on you via the Infidel Mafia. Be more careful!

As you can tell, though, I survived this episode. Basically, it’s a small, studied insult, just one more piled up on many: in Alabama, getting a license plate with “God Bless America” stamped into it has no extra cost, but various specialty plates (such as those for some veterans) will require a few bucks extra.

It’s stupid, but I can’t respond with much more than a resigned sigh. For one thing, it’s Alabama (sorry, Blue Gal, but if I got upset every time Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, etc., insulted my intelligence and that of every sensible person north and south of the Mason-Dixon line, I’d be exhausted); secondly, looking at the standard plate choices, I see it as similar to the choice between an ordinary plate, and a disability plate. People who pick the “God Bless America” plate are merely notifying other drivers that their car is being piloted by someone with a different kind of disability.

Poor things. Maybe they could be privileged with special spots in their church parking lots, too.

Comical innumeracy alert!

Well, hooray! I was going to jump onto this awesome example of flagrantly stupid creationist innumeracy, but I’d been putting it off (oh, my grading. My grading. It tears at me with talons like razors). This guy mangles recent measurements of human variation, making comments like this: “previous concepts that all humans were 99.9% alike were blown apart by the research conducted on 270 people of various races that confirmed that 2,900 genes could vary within people, making over a million combinations possible.” I mean, seriously, how ignorant do you have to be to think that the possibility of variation in many genes somehow means the nucleotide sequences can’t still be highly similar, or even sillier, to be impressed at the possibility of a million genetic variations in a human population of billions? Maybe in his day job this propagandists sets ransom demands for Dr. Evil.

Fortunately, untangling mathematical misconceptions is Mark Chu-Carroll’s destiny in life, and he polished this one off today. Go read that. I’m going to read a few more student essays.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on ID

Since Nick Matzke has become a fanboy, and Larry Moran has never heard of him, I thought I’d mention that I’ve liked Neil deGrasse Tyson’s column (titled “Universe”) in Natural History for a long time. It is generally on astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology, so it’s far afield from my usual comfort zone, but I don’t mind stretching my brain now and then. I’ve put a few excerpts from one column below the fold here that I thought was particularly good, from the November 2005 issue. It’s titled “The perimeter of ignorance”, and subtitled “a boundary where scientists face a choice: invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge.”

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Who counted them? And how?

Sean notes without comment a piece on how Muslims should find Mecca when traveling in space. I am in awe of the mind that could write this.

A user-friendly, portable Muslims in Space calculator , could determine the direction of the Qiblah and prayer times on the ISS. Its essential feature would be the use of the Projected Earth and Qiblah Pole concepts. These are based on the interpretation of the holy house of angels in the sky above Mecca. The place is always rich with angels worshipping. As many as 70,000 angels circumambulate it every day. Thus, one virtual Qiblah pole can be taken as a universal reference to determine the direction of the Qiblah. When Earth is projected to the height of the ISS, every point on its surface is projected also, including the Qiblah point, which can be projected upwards and downwards along the Qiblah Pole. This allows the direction of the Qiblah to be determined in space and in the bowels of the Earth.

It’s got space stations and angels all muddled up in one paragraph. Can we get the ISS to fly directly above Mecca? Would we need to install windshield wipers on it if we did so, in order to clear off the angel splat?

Watch out, Google

Microsoft has added everything to a search engine that you’ve missed in Google: long load times, half of the screen space dedicated to flash animation and another quarter just empty charcoal grey, results that are shown 3 at a time and displayed in a light gray font on a distracting pale graphic, and most importantly, the most annoying librarian in the universe, Ms. Dewey, who seems to be there to nag you to type faster and mock you if she doesn’t understand your request.

Is there a prize for the most idiotic abuse of web technology? This deserves a nomination. Unless, of course, it’s actually not a search engine, but a psychological experiment in optimizing interface design to maximize frustration and rage. It’s very good at that.

Those wacky Kansans!

The Onion reports on the latest anti-evolution tactic.

In response to a Nov. 7 referendum, Kansas lawmakers passed emergency legislation outlawing evolution, the highly controversial process responsible for the development and diversity of species and the continued survival of all life.

“From now on, the streets, forests, plains, and rivers of Kansas will be safe from the godless practice of evolution, and species will be able to procreate without deviating from God’s intended design,” said Bob Bethell, a member of the state House of Representatives. “This is about protecting the integrity of all creation.”

The new law prohibits all living beings within state borders from any willful adaptation to changing environmental conditions. In addition, it strictly limits any activity that may result in enhanced health or survival beyond the current average lifespan of their particular species.

My first thought was this will have the good effect of ending that pesky antibiotic resistance problem, but this law is going to have sweeping effects.

Human beings may be the species most deeply affected by the new legislation. Those whose cytochrome-c molecules vary less than 2 percent from those of chimpanzees will be in direct violation of the law.

There is no hint of what the penalties might be, but I think everyone better stop procreating, just to be on the safe side.