Friday Cephalopod: I succumb to peer pressure and will mention Octopolis

Wow. Every person on the planet saw one version or another of this “Octopolis” story and had to send it to me. It was the subject of a Friday Cephalopod a year ago, you know.

Apparently, this is the second octopus city discovered, which is interesting — they’re exhibiting more complex social behaviors.

However, I have two complaints.

  1. A lot of the stories are describing Octopolis/Octlantis as “gloomy”. Why? Is it because the inhabitants aren’t swimming around with toothy grins? The cephalopods look quite normal to me.

  2. A more serious complaint, about this quote:

    The discovery was a surprise, Scheel told Quartz. “These behaviors are the product of natural selection, and may be remarkably similar to vertebrate complex social behavior. This suggests that when the right conditions occur, evolution may produce very similar outcomes in diverse groups of organisms.”

    Nope. You don’t know that. There’s no evidence and no reason to think this behavior is the product of natural selection — quite the opposite, actually. It looks to me like the spontaneous emergence of a novel property of octopus behavior in an unusual and fortuitous environment.

That sounds like a promising idea

Rebecca Otto is running for governor of Minnesota, and she has some good, progressive ideas for improving our energy self-reliance.

Here’s the elevator speech version: Minnesota residents get around five thousand dollars cash (over several years), monetary incentives to upgrade all their energy using devices from furnaces to cars, some 80,000 new, high paying jobs, and in the end, the state is essentially fossil fuel free.

About half of that fossil fuel free goal comes directly from the plan itself, the other half from the economy and markets passing various tipping points that this plan will hasten. The time scale for the plan is roughly 10 years, but giving the plan a careful reading I suspect some goals will be reached much more quickly. This means that once the plan takes off, Minnesotans will have an incentive to hold their elected officials accountable for holding the course for at least a decade.

I like it. It’s incremental, it provides incentives for citizens to do things that will be good for them and the state, and it’s a great long term investment. My only concerns at this point are that the sums are on the small side — I could use $5K to make some small improvements in energy efficiency in my house, but big changes require bigger capital investment — and it’s not obvious how these incremental investments will get us to the point of being free from fossil fuels. There are more details, and I’ll have to look into it.

Even if it cuts fossil fuel usage by 20%, though, that’s an improvement worth doing. I might have to vote for this person in the next election and get this plan implemented.

Tracking the foliage

It’s that time of year, and we’re watching the DNR for optimal fall color watching.

Stevens County has a ways to go yet, and it’s still rather green outside, but in the next few weeks…. If you’re trying to figure out which county is mine, we’re the square one. I know, like that helps. The square one on the west side, due east of the protruding wart on the middle of Minnesota’s back, that is half green and half yellow.

Trump is making me agree with North Korea

North Korea is a tyrannical, backward mess, and suddenly I’m made to feel like their country is the sane one compared to our commander-in-chief. Here’s the full text of North Korea’s reaction to Trump’s UN speech.

The speech made by the U.S. president in his maiden address on the U.N. arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern.

Shaping the general idea of what he would say, I expected he would make stereotyped, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world’s biggest official diplomatic stage.

But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

A frightened dog barks louder.

I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world.

The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the U.N. arena the unethical will to “totally destroy” a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

His remarks remind me of such words as “political layman” and “political heretic” which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign.

After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.

His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.

Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say.

As a man representing the D.P.R.K. and on behalf of the dignity and honor of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the D.P.R.K.

This is not a rhetorical expression loved by Trump.

I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue.

Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.

I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.

Our madman is egging their madman on. As the country with the greater power, it is our responsibility to cool this war of words down…and our president is incapable of normal, rational diplomacy. People will die over these words at this rate.

You’re telling me dinosaur reconstructions contain assumptions?

They do, and they always have. Here’s an interesting way to illustrate that: make reconstructions of modern animals as if we had no idea about the expected distribution of fat and other soft tissues. Here’s a baboon drawn from its bones while pretending ignorance of hair and lips and such unfossilized stuff:

This is from a book by John Conway, CM Kosemen, and Darren Naish, called All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. I’m going to have to add it to my list.

Only a conservative twit would believe he’s entitled to a speaker’s slot at a con

Pity poor Jon Del Arroz! The sad far-right science fiction author first came to my attention a short while ago when he was complaining bitterly that the SJWs had taken over science fiction, using cherry-picked and misleading statistics. He’s got a persecution complex big enough to fill the San Francisco bay, where he lives.

Now he’s getting picked on again! He claims to have been blackballed from a local convention — he’s spoken there before, but he was not invited this year. After going on and on about reviews for a recent book, and praising himself mightily, he cuts to the chase.

The reason I was disinvited was because it is well known that I support the President of the United States, duly elected and all, and that I’m happy about the way the country is being run. You know, like most normal people are. That’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now. It’s the same dangerous rhetoric out there that many of these folk who run the convention post on such a consistent basis that has turned Facebook from a “fun catching up with friends” website to a hellhole of fear, anger and hate (which as Master Yoda taught us, leads to suffering!). It’s impossible to communicate anymore, and as such, there is a small but vocal power structure of people in the convention scene and publishing that can’t tolerate the concept of seeing my pretty face. I am a minority that’s been discriminated against, not because of my race, but because of my ideas. In Science Fiction, ideas are everything, and it’s frightening to think about those being shut down as a consequence. These people want my career to fail, and they believe they can accomplish that by silencing me and giving me the cold shoulder.

There’s one little problem with this woeful narrative. We have the letter the conference organizers personally wrote to him after he complained.

Dear Jon,

Thank you for your interest in BayCon 2017. We have made some changes to the programming which are discussed in detail here:

At this time we are not issuing you an invitation for this year’s convention. You are definitely on our guest list for 2018 and we hope very much to see you there.


BayCon Programming

He wasn’t blackballed. He’s even on their list for next year. They just like to rotate their speakers a bit, and not bring in the very same people every year — which is a good policy. I like hearing from new people.

Jon Del Arroz thinks getting one invitation to speak means he is now invited to speak at every con every year in perpetuity. He’s an idiot. He’s such an entitled ass, I have to wonder about BayCon — why have they invited him back for next year? Have they no standards in invited speakers? That’s not a good sign.

By the way, I have a similar example: I was a speaker at Skepticon multiple times. One year they decided they needed new blood, so they invited some other people, instead of me. If I were like Jon Del Arroz, I would have made a big stink over the violation of tradition — they invited me once (actually, a couple of times), so now they must invite me every time. Every year. Over and over. Until attendees are sick of me, and even then they aren’t allowed to stop.

That isn’t the way this works. I approve of diversity in the line-up. I think it’s great that they have enough people with interesting things to say that they can have a different roster of speakers every year. I’m perfectly willing to step aside, especially since it means I can just attend and enjoy the event without having to give a talk.

But then, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Maybe it’s all those rabid Republican dude-bros who run Skepticon who have blackballed me.

Hey, look! It’s a tenure-track biology job!

The University of Minnesota, Morris biology discipline has been approved to fill a tenure track line in biology. Here’s the description:

The University of Minnesota, Morris Division of Science and Mathematics seeks an individual committed to excellence in undergraduate education, to fill a tenure-track position in biology beginning August 20, 2018.

Required/Preferred Qualifications:

Required: Applicants must hold or expect to receive a Ph.D. in molecular biology or related field by August 20, 2018. Experience and evidence of excellence in teaching and mentoring undergraduate biology students is required (graduate TA experience is acceptable.)

Preferred: Preference will be given to applicants who are able to develop and teach upper-level elective courses in their area of expertise and which complement those offered by the current biology faculty. Applicants with expertise in quantitative approaches to molecular-scale data are strongly encouraged to apply.

About the Job

Duties/Responsibilities: Teaching undergraduate biology courses including introductory biology, molecular biology with lab, electives in the applicant’s areas of expertise, and other courses that support the biology program; advising undergraduates; conducting research that could involve undergraduates and potentially in collaboration with our data sciences faculty; and sharing in the governance and advancement of the biology program, the division, and the campus.

This tenure-track position carries all of the privileges and responsibilities of University of Minnesota faculty appointments. A sound retirement plan, excellent fringe benefits and a collegial atmosphere are among the benefits that accompany the position. Appointment will be at the Assistant Professor level for those having the Ph.D. in hand and at the Instructor level for those whose Ph.D. is pending. The standard teaching load is twenty credit hours per year.

As a small university, note the teaching requirements: we need someone to help teach molecular biology, so wet lab experience is important. Molecular biology is an awfully broad category, though, so also note the buried detail: “Applicants with expertise in quantitative approaches to molecular-scale data are strongly encouraged to apply.” The magic word there is “quantitative”. We’re looking for someone who applies quantitative analysis to their work. We’re wide open to a lot of different approaches. Are you a bioinformatics person who is analyzing the evolution of specific genes? Lovely. Are you a systematist studying plant taxa with quantitative techniques? Go for it. Looking at biomechanics? We don’t do that here, but it would be cool to have it. We just hired a big data guy in computer science and statistics, so being able to work with that field is a big plus. Help us add a deeper mathematical element to undergraduate education.

Why should you apply here? We’re on the western prairies of Minnesota (no, we’re not located in Minneapolis/St Paul, so don’t think we’re a big city place) and kind of remote — if you like small town life, it’s a great place to be. Our university strongly emphasizes a quality education, personalized and supportive, so if teaching is your bag, we want to hear from you.

Shorter summary: we are looking for a biologist who likes math and teaching. Come join us!

Ripping on the History Channel is always fun

As a measure of the degeneration of our public discourse, all you have to do is turn on your TV, and you’ll find a whole sequence of corrupted discussion. It’s not just Fox News; the people who credulously watch Fox may also find themselves primed by the so-called “educational” stations, the ones people watch because they’re supposed to make learning interesting by explaining stuff that people are already curious about. Somewhere along the line, though, the television programmers realized that you can just drop the difficult “education” part and skip right from “curiosity” to “spectacularly batshit looney-tunes stories from grossly unqualified (that is, cheap) sources”. Take The History Channel, please.

I don’t know if you knew, but the Hebrews didn’t spend forty years in the Sinai after the Exodus because they’d incurred the wrath of God. And they didn’t leave that desert because the offending generation had died off. The chosen people were forced into the Promised Land because the algae-based-protein-bar machine that dispensed the “manna from heaven” they’d been eating finally broke down.

“Of course, [the machine] needed energy, for cultivating the algae, and this was produced, we postulate, by a small nuclear reactor,” says Rodney Dale, a wild-eyed madman.

This is the History Channel, circa 2009. “But,” asks the narrator, “If the Israelites’ survival depended upon the manna machine, where did they get it? Some believe they had stolen it from the Egyptians prior to their exodus. Other suspect extraterrestrials gave it to them as a humanitarian gesture to prevent their starvation in the desert.” The show is “Ancient Aliens,” and it’s everything that’s wrong in America.

I haven’t watched it in years, since it gave up on History and decided that people driving trucks or others buying crap at auctions was more interesting, i.e. profitable. It seems to be oscillating between the mundane, like pawn shops, and absurd bullshit, like aliens building portals in the Southwest desert. The only thing worse than an occasional television show with unbelievable claims is to actually attend a conference by these true believers — I’ve gone to the Paradigm Symposium twice now (and never again), and you discover very quickly that sensational, exaggerated claims without plausible evidence are deeply boring. That’s happened to the History Channel, too — it’s boring, and they try to reinvigorate it by making more and more ridiculous claims. It doesn’t work.

There must be a word for making a fool of yourself to get attention

It should also start with a “K”. You may have heard that James Damore is continuing to discredit himself further with some weird musings on Twitter.

Here are some internal title names for the Klan. Still cool?


You can call yourself whatever you want. But let’s not forget that the KKK is all about terror, bigotry, and murder, and all the cool names in the world won’t change that.

Damore also has an explanation for why people join the KKK. It’s not racism. It’s not even ‘economic insecurity’. It’s because they want to be called a Klokard.

Jebus. The question is no longer about why Damore was fired from Google, it’s how did he get the job there in the first place?

Also, is he aware that there are pages and pages and pages on the web that are all about how stupid some of the names and creatures in D&D are?

I still don’t have a good word for Damore, so I’m going to have to invent one. Klaggart. Or maybe Klook.

Let There Be Ignorance!

After playing an unbelievably bad atheist philosophy professor in God’s Not Dead, Kevin Sorbo is going to stretch his range by playing an unbelievably bad atheist doctor of medicine in Let There Be Light. Watch the trailer and be in awe of Jerkules’ acting chops!

Can you spot the Christian tropes in the plot summary?

After suffering the traumatic loss of his youngest son to cancer, Dr. Sol Harkens (Kevin Sorbo) loses faith and heads down a path of darkness. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Katy (Sam Sorbo) and their two remaining sons, Sol turns to alcohol to numb his pain. Soon his bad habits catch up to him, and Sol is involved in a serious car accident that leaves him dead for four minutes before he is resuscitated. What Sol experiences during this time changes his outlook on life and brings him closer to his family and faith.

I see…

  • Atheists are angry at the gods because of some trauma.

  • Leaving the gods sends you down a path of darkness.

  • You’ll lose all your friends and family if you don’t follow the gods.

  • When you’re near death, boy will you regret not believing in the gods.

  • Dreams and the confabulations of the unconscious mind are objective evidence of the existence of the gods.

Poor Kevin seems to be making a career of playing a caricature of an atheist, poorly, who then undergoes a miraculous conversion, unconvincingly. The most persuasive part of the trailer for me is when Sorbo accepts Christ into his life after suffering a traumatic brain injury, and as a reward, Satan (played by Sean Hannity) shows up to offer him a chance to appear on Fox News. Nope, I’m convinced. No way will I ever drink the Christian Kool-Aid.