A great loss to caninity

Sad news: Carl Buell and Hank Fox have lost a good friend, Tito.

Dogs are easy animals to get to know, sometimes too easy. I haven’t been able to bear the thought of having a dog again since the day, when I was 12, that I stepped off the school bus one afternoon to find my dog, Snoop, crushed and broken by the side of the road. At least it sounds like Tito had a good life and a dignified end.

Carl has put up a short photo essay and testament to Tito.

Friday Random Ten…really

OK, I should balance my non-random ten with a random ten, so here they are:

Somewhere In Texas The Raveonettes
Strange Fruit Billy Holiday
Three Bikes in the Sky Tangerine Dream
Woman Of Heart And Mind Joni Mitchell
Us Regina Spektor
Black Milk Eighth From The Egg
Tanaka Sound Saian Supa
Truth is (featuring Robert Smith) Tweaker
O Skeewiff where art thou? (man of constant sorrow) Skeewiff
All Apologies Nirvana
Sacala Don Omar, Wisin Y Yandel & Hector
You Don’t Know What Love Is Chucho Valdez

Friday Semi-Non-Random Ten

These things have a way of snowballing…Luis kindly sends me a couple of Roy Zimmerman CDs, I make a comment about it, and next thing you know, the friendly people at Meta4Records send me the other albums he has made. I’ve got the complete collection now! So I created a Zimmerman playlist in iTunes, set it to shuffle, and present to you the first ten.

“Acid On Picture Day…” Roy Zimmerman Comic Sutra
You’re Pretty Roy Zimmerman Comic Sutra
Hula Yule Roy Zimmerman Peacenick
My TV Roy Zimmerman Homeland
Dick Cheney Roy Zimmerman Security
T.M.I. Roy Zimmerman Comic Sutra
Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung Roy Zimmerman Security
Saddam Shame Roy Zimmerman Security
Think Different Roy Zimmerman Homeland
Nothing But The Best Roy Zimmerman Peacenick

These CDs are incredibly healthy. You know how, when you read the news about the latest atrocities from the Republicans, and your blood pressure starts to rise, and you’re turning purple, and you’re starting to shred the newspaper or scream at the TV? That’s probably not good for you. What you can do instead is play a little Zimmerman, and he’ll make fun of the Bushites for you—you’ll still feel peevish and have a desire to do something about it, but the humor will take the edge off. It’s going to add years to my life.

As an added bonus, playing liberal folkie music like this around Republicans makes them turn a choleric purple and grind their teeth—if it doesn’t kill them slowly, at the least you’ll know they’re going to spend their declining years with inflamed gums and a diet they have to suck through a straw.

A grim start to Spring Break

Spring break starts…NOW. I’m done with classes for the day, and just have to make a trip out to St. Cloud to pick up my son for the weekend and my obligations are temporarily over, sort of.

Way back at the beginning of the term when spring break seemed far, far away, I scheduled an exam for my physiology course (75 students) and my introductory biology course (35 students) for this week; I also had my intro students turn in a writing assignment this week, and because they had done poorly on one rather important exercise, had also assigned an extra paper, also due now. There is a rather terrifyingly full box of papers sitting on my desk, growling softly to remind me of its existence now and then. I know that if I neglect it it will glare more ferociously and grow claws and fangs and get increasingly vicious; if I wait until the last weekend of the break to deal with it, it will try to kill me. So I’m going to take it out early. I swear, I will annihilate the contents of that evil box this weekend, splattering every page with red.

That box is evil. I hate it. I will gut it soon, one page at a time.

Friday Random Ten: Taking it easy edition

For some reason, this has been a draining week, and I’m just slumped in my easy chair with the iTunes entertaining me…so let’s toss up a Friday Random Ten.

Blade Of Grass Asylum Street Spankers
Prayers for Rain The Cure
Skåne Hedningarna
Whip It Devo
My Generation Patti Smith
Hallelujah Leonard Cohen
Logon Rock Witch Alarm Will Sound
Show me forgiveness Bjork
Stripper Lords Of Acid
Dr.Sayus Simpsons

Tomorrow is another day in the office, whipping up this talk for Cafe Scientifique, and I think I’ve got a science post or two fermenting up in my cranium.

A novel situation

This is remarkable: I actually have all of my grading done, and even have Monday and Wednesday’s lecture all ready to go. I’m. All. Caught. Up. I think this means the Apocalypse will be coming along shortly.

I don’t quite have all my responsibilities out of the way yet, though. Next week is time for Cafe Scientifique Morris, and I’m the guy giving the talk this time. If you’re somewhere in Western Minnesota or Eastern Repressive State of South Dakota, come on down to the Stevens County Historical Museum (116 W 6th Street) in Morris around 6ish. The Morris Area Arts Boosters will be selling tasty baked goods and coffee, so show up for good food even if you don’t want to hear me trying to convince the community that Evolution Is A Good Thing.

And then, of course, I’ve got assignments due and exams to give on Thursday and Friday, so the crushing burden will resume soon thereafter.

Prairie Home Companion at Morris

So did everyone tune in?

It was a middling show. He said good things about UMM and well, honest things about Morris, so I’m not going to complain about that.

As usual, the gospel music gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I just content myself with the knowledge that I was listening to a pleasant shadow of the richness the composers and musicians would have produced, if only their talent hadn’t been tainted with the rot of religiosity.

I sat next to Skatje, who looked weary with the burden of accompanying a pair of old fogeys to listen to some other old fogies act out skits and music that were even more fogeyish. Ah, the burden of being a teenager…

My Friday with Darwin

OK, people, this is too cruel. I was gone all day yesterday, traveling to the Twin Cities for this Darwin Day event, and the site gets 37,000 visits. Are you all trying to tell me it’s better when I’m not around to clutter it up? If I take off for a week will traffic climb to Daily Kos-like proportions? (There was a link from fark that might actually explain the sudden surge.)

Anyway, I’ll give a quick summary of what I was up to yesterday.

I started with a 3 hour drive to Minneapolis, which was very exciting. High winds, blowing snow, near whiteout conditions. The weather was bad enough that they canceled public schools in the area.

When I got there, we set up in the Bell Museum auditorium. We had about 50 or 60 people show up.

The first talk was by Mark Borrello, a historian of biology, who gave a very good overview of Darwin’s life.

I’ve put a copy of my talk online (pardon the bloated format: blame Microsoft). Since I don’t use much text in my powerpoint presentations, I’ll give a rough overview of the content here. In my introduction, I pointed out a creationist accusation—that we’re “Darwinian fundamentalists” or “Darwinists”—and a claim—that there is no evidence for evolution. The point of my talk was to show that, much as we respect and admire Darwin as a founding father of an important scientific discipline, his theory has been expanded upon in ways he couldn’t even imagine, and that the addition of new information is an ongoing pursuit. There are major themes in evolutionary research—genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics, genomics, evo-devo—that simply weren’t even on the horizon in Darwin’s day.

I gave a lightning quick, superficial overview of examples of new developments in evolution.

  • New fossils, new transitional forms in whale and human evolution.
  • Fry et al.‘s work on venom evolution as an example of integrating molecular systematics, analysis of gene expression, and morphology to produce 3 overlapping lines of evidence that support an evolutionary story.
  • Suzuki and Nijhout’s work on laboratory selection in Manduca as an example of observed evolution.
  • Okabe and Graham’s study of parathyroid origins: combining the use of molecular markers and comparative embryology to demonstrate homology of an organ system.
  • Resolving core differences in the body plans of arthropods and chordates, and showing common descent by the shared patterns of Hox gene expression.

My conclusion was to show a pretty squid picture as an example of exotic beauty in nature, and explain that evolution is currently the only explanation that simultaneously explains the diversity and unity of life, and that it is the only explanation we have that is soundly based on the evidence.

The session closed with very short overviews of current research by three biologists in the ecology and evolutionary biology department: R. Ford Denison, Peter Tiffin, and Cynthia Weinig. They were very good, but I think the format was a bit much—after over two hours of talks, it was probably a mistake to put the most technically challenging talks at the very end, when the audience was exhausted.

Finally, I had a short planning discussion about Cafe Scientifique with the Bell Museum organizer, got in my car, cussed out rush hour traffic, got to western Minnesota to discover the roads were still invisible with blowing snow, and got home after a few exciting slides and twirls on powder-covered streets.

Today I’m planning to take it easy, read a bit, and attend the Prairie Home Companion show which will be broadcast live from UMM. You can find out more on the Prairie Home page, listen to it on your local station, and if you’ve got the real audio player, you can listen to it live between 5 and 7 pm Central time today. I doubt very much that he’ll say anything about evolutionary biology or science, but he may poke fun at my university, which is always entertaining.

Where will I be today?

This afternoon, I’ll be at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, celebrating the birth of Charles Darwin. Everyone is welcome, so come on down!

1:00P – Lecture by historian of biology Professor Mark Borrello, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, on the history of Darwin and evolutionary theory.

2:00P – Lecture by biologist and blogger Professor P.Z. Myers, University of Minnesota—Morris, on evidence for evolution.

3:00P – Panel discussion of University of Minnesota evolutionary biologists on their cutting-edge research at the U of M titled “My Life’s Work in Three Minutes”. To be followed by a cake reception.

Charles Darwin achieved fame and infamy for his theory of evolution by natural selection, now the foundation underlying all biological sciences. Darwin Day is the anniversary of his birthday, whose exact date is February 12, 1809. The date is celebrated internationally.

For more information, contact:
Mike Jones
Publishing and Editing Committee Manager
Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists

Bell Museum of Natural History (Directions|Google Map)

Mmmmm-mmm. Cake. You can’t possibly miss this.