A Dark Web: Part Six

This is the conclusion of our story chain, A Dark Web. You can find the previous chapters here:

  1. FTB Presents: A Dark Intellectual Web (Episode 1)
  2. A Dark Web: Part Two
  3. A Dark Web: Part Three
  4. A Dark Web: Part Four
  5. A Dark Web: Part Five

Warning: this chapter is a bit heavy on the exposition, and includes a little bit of gore and violence. Maybe a bit of body horror, too, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of spider/human chimeras.

A Dark Web: Part Six
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Pumpkin science

If you’ve ever wondered how giant pumpkins can get so big, Bethany Brookshire has the answer.

Giant pumpkins need a lot of water and sugar, and they need it fast. A typical giant pumpkin grows from seed to huge orange squash in only 120 to 160 days. At peak growth, it’s putting on 15 kilograms (33 pounds) every day. That’s like daily adding a two-year-old child to its mass. And all of that mass must move through the stem, Savage notes. Most of the time, the stem is so narrow that you can still easily get your hands around it.

To study how pumpkin stems transport so much food and water, she asked growers of giant pumpkins to donate small slivers of their competition fruits. She also got any pumpkins that burst before they could be judged. She even got small pumpkins that farmers had rejected before they plumped up. (To grow a massive pumpkin, farmers will only let one pumpkin on each plant reach full size.) She also grew a few of her own.

Savage took a close look at the stems, leaves and pumpkins and then compared them to those from other large squashes. Giant pumpkins don’t produce more sugars, she found. And their xylems and phloems don’t work differently. The titans just have more transport tissue. “It’s almost like there’s this mass growth of the vascular tissue in [the] stem,” she says. Extra xylem and phloem help the stem pump more food and water into the fruit, leaving less for the rest of the plant.

It’s a transport difference! We don’t appreciate the importance of transport in multicellular organisms enough.

Of course, what you really want to see are elephants smashing giant pumpkins.

Hey, I just realized that we didn’t carve a pumpkin for our house this year! I guess the nonexistent trick-or-treaters won’t have anything to kick around.

The horror that is the skeptic/atheist movement

This is so painful for me: Hayley Stevens has posted a measured critique of James Randi. It’s all true: Randi did flirt favorably with eugenics and climate change denial. He was a stage magician, not a scientist, and I can say from personal experience, from multiple long conversations with him, that it’s true. He would shy away from such ideas if he knew he was talking to a scientist, but he’d let the nonsense leak out, still. He had a poor reputation with women — he didn’t have much to do with them, which obviously didn’t affect me much, directly, but it did mean he was much more comfortable with us Old Boys and led to underrepresentation of women in the movement. He occasionally let that slip out, too, like his remark downplaying the sexual assaults of Michael Shermer, “Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion”. He personally introduced me to Lawrence Krauss, and was part of a conversation in which Krauss asked me to not criticize a certain guy named Jeffrey Epstein; Randi just knew Epstein as someone who liked sexy women and who donated to Krauss’s science efforts. Randi was immensely popular, but his lasting influence could have so much greater if he hadn’t been so narrow in many of his views. I hate to say it, but Stevens characterizes that movement entirely accurately.

This one isn’t so painful: Eiynah has a podcast titled “Woking Up” in which she totally shreds Sam Harris. Without reservation, I’d say that Harris’s ongoing popularity has been a disaster for atheism or the “New Atheism”, whatever that is, and she exposes the fact that he’s awfully supportive of racists and makes terribly bad arguments against the Left. I enjoyed that one, since I’ve never been a fan of the Harris school of deceptive reasonableness in the service of the worst possible takes. It’s easy to see right through him, and the people who can’t simply favor his polite racism.

No gods, no masters, and no goddamn hero worship.

Happy Halloween! Check out our schedule!

Yay! It’s an excuse to party — quietly, alone in our homes, spurning human contact — so I hope you’re all taking advantage of it. Here at Freethoughtblogs we’ve been assembling a few party favors over the past week, all listed on our fundraising page. A few highlights:

Don’t send us candy treats, though. Send money. Or join my Patreon. Please don’t TP our web server.

Spider science lurches fitfully forward!

Oh, hey, it’s the day before Halloween, and I only just now looked up from my work. This has been a busy day — it’s advising week, and all these students have been lining up at my virtual door to get me to validate their choices for spring term courses. We didn’t have this when I was an undergrad at the UW. Instead, we had a scavenger hunt every quarter: we’d puzzle out on our own what courses we needed, then we’d run around campus, tracking down professors and asking them for a precious computer punchcard, which they’d give us if we met their standards, and then we’d get in a long line and file in to the registrar, turn in our deck of cards which would go into a cardreader, and then 10 minutes (or so) later, we’d get a printout of the courses we were taking (unless there was a conflict or error, in which case we’d get our cards back and go on another scavenger hunt to find a card that fixed everything), and we’d turn around and walk a few meters to the conveniently located billing office to cough up our tuition on the spot.

So that ate up a good part of today. It might have been better in the good old days when the students had to do all the legwork.

We also reviewed our recent spider experiments, which were kind of disappointing. The spiders were mostly immobile in the time-lapse recordings, and we were wondering what we were doing wrong, and then we noticed…”say, how come the illumination in these videos never changes?”…so I checked the timer on our light source, and realized it was broken and it has permanently been 3pm all week long. No wonder I’m so tired! So I ordered new timers.

While we were waiting for that to arrive, we tried a wild-ass sloppy experiment, and just let the lights in the lab regulate the light level for a few days in our time-lapse rig. We discovered that lab lighting is temporal chaos, with custodians and security guards doing their thing, so that there is no such thing as a 14:10 light cycle. There’s supposed to be a pattern! The cage goes purplish pink when the IR camera is working, and shades of gray when we’ve got daylight, but no: they’ve been on an 8:2:3:1:7:3 cycle, I think, and who knows what’s going on. The spiders probably don’t.

We did notice that our reclusive spiders did go into overdrive in the brief periods of real darkness, though, so now we just have to get that functioning reliably.

So the new timers arrived today, and Ade built a Space Cocoon.

What that is is, on top, a clamp light with a natural daylight lamp on a functioning timer with a 14 hour on/10 hour off cycle. Below that is a Raspberry PI with a NoIR camera, and also an IR lamp that is permanently on. Below that is a cage with a spider in it, trapped in a kind of panopticon. And then, elegantly wrapped around the whole contraption, a couple of layers of aluminum foil so the only thing illuminating the spider’s living quarters is our controlled lighting. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll try to get some data and then fuss over making it fancy.

Then I fed the babies.

I’m getting pretty slick at that. Here’s the way I work it:

I put a few hundred fruit flies in the wide mouth plastic cup in the foreground, with a petri dish as a lid to prevent them from escaping. Then I remove the foam plugs from a row of spider vials, tap tap tap to knock all the flies to the bottom of the cup, remove the petri dish, and incline the cup so one side is almost horizontal over the vials. The flies (wingless, so they have to walk) rush to the lip of the cup, where I’m waiting with a paintbrush to flick, flick, flick flies into the hellmouths of the vials, where they are instantly trapped in the dense mat of silk therein. Cap the cup, restore the foam plugs, and repeat. I can do 300 baby spiders in 15 minutes now. 1200 spiders per hour. I could raise an army of about 10,000 spiders if I didn’t have to do that pesky teaching and committee work stuff. DOES NO ONE UNDERSTAND MY PRIORITIES?

That was my Friday.

You know, if I could kidnap the students I advise and put them to work in my spider farm, I’d be able to raise hundreds of thousands of spiders. I’d have to take over some adjacent labs to accomplish that, but if I must, I must. We demand Spinnenraum, it is our destiny!

Maybe the whole dang country has lost its mind

She heard it on the phone! From a friend! It must be true!

How dare those Democrats practice their second amendment rights to keep and bear arms — the Founding Fathers intended for that to apply only to Republicans. I also had no idea that ANTIFA had a membership list. I’ll have to take that up with the chairperson next time I see her.

I have a recommendation for everyone, too. Stay away from West Virginia on 1 November. It looks like a lot of loons will be congregating there. Maybe we can fence the whole state off on 4 November and not let any of them leave?