Monday, August 28, 2006

We Now Return to the Rant in Progress

Anyway, August issue of Scientific American had a very good article, "The Real Life of Pseudogenes". Seemingly they are a sizable part of our "junk" DNA. Points of interest:
  • Genes have a couple of ways of making copies of themselves in the genome, and probably happy to get away with it -- it's all about replication, yes? Various copies undergo bad mutations (imperfect replication) to where they can no longer produce their protein. But, they stay in the genome, happily replicating themselves.
  • One gene has 140 bad copies of itself in the genome. I guess it took the "intelligent designer" a few tries to get that one right.
  • Most mammals have about 1000 genes that produce receptors for different smells. Smell perception is very much lock and key, one gene per receptor per smell. Primates (including us) have only about 500 of these still working -- the rest are still there as broken pseudogenes. Apparently as we were making our transition to the highly vision oriented perception we use now (90% of our bitrate), there was no loss in survivability from the loss of the smell receptors. Crazy, with genetic engineering you could probably change just a few base pairs and get this back.
  • Most mammals can synthesize vitamin C. Around 40 million years ago, primates had a mutation that turned a gene required to make a protein in one of the last steps in the synthesis into an inoperative pseudogene. Again, apparently our ancestors were eating a lot of citrus fruits at the time for this not to have affected survivability.
  • Both these last two seem to suggest to me that we have definitely come through some narrow evolutionary windows. I guess like in the Stephen Baxter book "Evolution" blogged earlier, throughout most of our evolutionary history there was one individual who wound up being the parent of us all -- that's really counterintuitive to me.
I have noticed I have a definite hot button -- that is, questioning science. To me, science is the only system of knowledge in the history of our race that has proven to be able to produce describable, consistently reproducable results. I loved the junior year physics lab at MIT. For two semesters, we made the equipment (I remember turning pipe on a lathe to make a vacuum chamber) and performed some of the great experiments of physics: the Michelson-Morley experiment that shows that there's no luminiferous ether (no prefered frame of reference in the universe); the Milliken oil drop experiment that shows the quantization of charge; the Rutherford scattering experiment that shows the existence of atomic nuclei.

It is hard to choose favorites, but "The Republican War on Science" is yet another reason to despise the neocons. You wonder how many of these guys, in between attending prayer meetings, got modern liberal educations and were taught by fucking deconstructionists that science is "just a paternalistic, destructive way of looking at the world", no more valid than shamanism say. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Like the proposal to let non-evolution-believing people have their TB treated with the antibiotics of 40 years ago, which modern evolved (oops) TB bacilli eat like candy. Or like taking your car to a faith-healing mechanic. An airplane designed and flown by a shaman might be an interesting flight, but I don't think it would get you from New York to Paris.

I have recently flamed a sibling and a friend re their reports of Michael Crighton's latest novel where he "debunks" global warming. 15 years ago there was contention in the scientific ranks on global warming, it's been gone for around 10 years. But, I'm sure Crighton's data is as good as the Republicans -- i.e., nonexistant. How in the fuck did we wind up getting governed by Peter Pan and Tinkerbell -- "think happy thoughts, Iraqis will embrace democracy and global warming will go away"????

Last months Technology Review had an excellent article about "the most respected climate scientist in the world" and the Bush administration's attempts to muzzle him. He's been saying "global warming" since 1988. Note particularly the chart on p2, "C02 and the 'Ornery Climate Beast,'" PDF, 631 KB). The chart shows CO2 levels, ocean levels and global temperatures going pretty much in lockstep for the last 400,000 years. When I looked at it in the magazine, I thought, well, looks like we're at a natural maximum -- but then when I looked at the PDF online and blew it up, I noticed that the current CO2 level of 377 ppm is off the top of the chart (300 ppm). Pretty damn scary.

Now for some levity. My friend Patrick posted this hilarious link to the KASE forum:

Tinfoil Hat of Credulity sold separately.

He had a nice aphorism too:

"Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

Nice ...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two More Books

I think I'll alternate between snappy and boring titles??

Forgot two books I had read last time. I think I will have to go back to leaving them on my desk until I blog them.

Read Charles Stross's latest "Glasshouse". Nothing much new from the rest of his latest stuff, but still a good read, 3 stars. It says a lot about the quality of Stross's writing that a novel this good was somewhat disappointing.

Better was

ARRGH-- after 1/2 hour of editing this entry, Firefox froze when I went to add a link to a site. Now getting to reenter, ARRGH! What a pain -- so much for Web 2.0.

Better was "Rainbow's End", by Vernor Vinge. A near future novel, Vinge definitely knows his computer science, which he should as he was/is a CS prof at UC San Diego. 4 stars. Seems nicely setup for a good sequel.

Well, I had a great discussion of an article on pseudogenes in August Scientific American, and a great rant on science, neocons, deconstructionism, and global warming -- but, I totally don't feel like reconstructing it now. So, hopefully this week.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hot Blog

Damn, it's been hot here, as I guess it is in most of the US. Finally cooled off a little Friday. I haven't biked in 3 weeks (slept til 11:15 last Sunday ?!?!?), did take a walk with my wife this morning.

Worked 11-6:30 yesterday (Saturday). Entering one of those periods generating a new product where I will be really cranking for the next few months. New product is pretty exciting stuff, could be slightly revolutionary.

Music goes well. My playing and singing are pretty good, and I am really surprised at how my ear is improving. I can hear songs in or out of my head and figure out the chords without a guitar a lot of the time now -- I never used to be able to do that. My youngest has sung 3 times now, generally well received. She did two of the Corinne Bailey Rae songs, "Like a Star" and "Another Rainy Day". The former worked better than the latter -- the 6/8 time there threw the drummer off. I think I am about full of the Corinne Bailey Rae album, I have been really preaching it for weeks now.

I did play downtown with "The Patty Butcher 4th of July Blues All-Stars" on the 4th. 3 guitars, sang lead on "Killing Floor", played 1.5 hours before getting rained out. Here's the proof:

I wore the "Liberal" t-shirt to offset the USA/flag hat that I had been wearing. The other guitarists are the most excellent Dale Dickens to my right, and Max Corona with the "B92" t-shirt on (he's a DJ there).

Also played a private party with "The Patty Butcher Blues Review" on 7/22. 4 sets from 8:30 to 1:00a. Went pretty well, I only hit 2 bad notes all night, got to sleep by 3:00, wasn't particularly a zombie the next day. Two paying gigs, who'da thunk it? I'm official now ...

Read a very good SF by a new author, John Scalzi's "Old Man's War". 70 year olds join the interplanetary marines in exchange for new, manufactured super bodies. As an aging baby boomer, I can definitely identify with that. I'm on to the magazine stack now, hoping to clear it this week before we vacate through New York, Maine, Boston, Connecticut, and NYC.