Thursday, September 30, 2004

File sharing data analysis

The RIAA has recently made a big deal about targeting file sharing service users who download music, and has said that they've been making progress in reducing the amount of music that is downloaded. Let's hear it in their own words:
"Last year, illegal file sharing was soaring, outpacing even the surge of bandwidth penetration. Peer-to-peer services were viewed as ‘legitimate,’ ... Today, we are in a very different world. Traffic on one of the largest peer-to-peer file sharing systems is down, even with the exponential increase in bandwidth penetration. Awareness about the law, legal alternatives, and the security and privacy risks of file sharing systems, has skyrocketed."
So, while they don't come right out and say it (at least in this press release), they strongly imply that their litigious activities have significantly reduced the amount of file sharing that occurs.

Now, let's look at this logically. One hypothesis certainly is that the RIAA's actions have decreased file sharing traffic overall, and this is the hypothesis that the RIAA believes is supported by the data. However, an alternate hypothesis is that file sharing traffic overall has not decreased, but has simply moved to other networks whose users are not prosecuted by the RIAA. An implicit assumption in both of these hypotheses is that peer-to-peer traffic levels are determined primarily by music-file sharing.

So, how do we test these hypotheses? We look at traffic levels. BoingBoing recently linked to a bandwith analysis by CacheLogic that provides some data we can use.

Slide 9 of CacheLogic's presentation presents the proportional traffic volume on different peer-to-peer networks over time. Their data clearly show that KaZaA's (FastTrack's) traffic reduced in the six month period they examined (46% of traffic in Jan 2004 to 19% of traffic in June 2004), and this does match the prediction of hypothesis #1 (as the RIAA happily advertises), though it also matches the prediction of our alternate hypothesis (which the RIAA fails to mention). BitTorrent's traffic increased during the same time period (26% to 53% of the overall traffic), which supports our alternate hypothesis, and not the RIAA's hypothesis. Unfortunately the presentation doesn't provide overall traffic volume analyses (that I saw), so we can't determine whether overall file sharing volume has decreased, but the presentation implies that it has not.

Other researchers (PDF of their paper) have attempted to estimate the actual traffic volume that occurs across peer-to-peer networks. They found that, at least until January 2004, the traffic levels of peer-to-peer networks had been increasing, not declining as the RIAA implies (and they also find the same trend of growth in BitTorrent and decline in KaZaA / FastTrack).

The CacheLogic presentation also summarizes some other important facts about file sharing that the RIAA typically fails to mention:
  • "The vast majority of Peer-to-Peer traffic volume comes from large objects >100MB in size," implying that MP3 file sharing is not driving file sharing network volume. (slide 10)
  • "Many free software projects now use BitTorrent to distribute large CD images." (slide 10)
  • File sharing is not done by just a few users. "Nearly 10% of the number of broadband connections in the world" are logged on to Peer-to-Peer networks at any given time, and "75% of European Broadband subscribers use Peer-to-Peer Networks every month". (slide 11)

Projector Bulbs

Remember me mentioning that my lab's data projector bulb had burned out? If not, it's understandable, since it happened in the first week of classes.

Well, the bulb was finally replaced this morning. It took them 28 days to replace it; in the meantime I've been using a portable projector that I have to either lock up in my office, or have A/V pick up every night. And, I'm fairly sure that the only reason the bulb got replaced was that my dean asked me about the projector last night, and called the A/V people this morning to ask what was going on.

Sigh. So apparently it now takes 4 weeks and a call from the dean to get a bulb replaced ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Plant Videos

Plants-In-Motion is a nonprofit, educational site that has a large number of quality videos of plant movements, including germination, photomorphogenesis, tropisms, nastic movements (probably my favorite category), circadian responses, growth, and flowering. Most of the videos are time-lapse, though some are real time. The only problem I've encountered is that while the author says users can copy the videos for educational use, I haven't been able to save them to disk.

If you thought that all plants did was sit there and photosynthesize, then you need to watch these videos. It's just as much fun as watching the grass grow (in time-lapse video). Really! (via Prashant Mullick)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Scientists and Engineers for Change

Pharyngula posted about a new independent political organization: Scientists and Engineers for Change (Chris Mooney has a good summary of the group's founding press conference).

I really like this group.

What they're doing, functionally, is saying, "Let's forget about Iraq, terrorists, and what each candidate did in the 1970's; let's just look at science and engineering issues." And, looking at these issues, they conclude that Bush has been a disaster.

Doing science and training scientists is expensive, and with the ever-growing number of questions to address (nanotech, stem cells, genomic sequencing, computer science algorithms, etc.) we need enhanced funding to explore all of them. But that's not what the Bush administration is planning:
"Over the next five years the [Bush] administration plans to cut research in the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and USDA." (link)
Thus, if you care about science and technological progress, and you want America to retain its position as one of the technological and scientific leaders of the world, then George Bush is not the man for the job. In my opinion the lack of scientific stewardship by Bush is enough, on its own, to eliminate him as a potential president, but even if you disagree with me on that, at least keep the scientific and technological positions of each candidate in mind as you make your own choice.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Manduca Wandering Pictures on Flickr

I've been recently seeing a lot of blog posts about Flickr, a new photo hosting website. While I created an account some time ago (link to my photos page), I haven't had much of a reason to use it. My recent caterpillar wandering picture post has changed all that, as I have 28 sequential pictures of the wandering and digging process. I created a rough flash animation of the images (link; it's a 700K flash file, and isn't on flickr), but that didn't seem like the best way to display them.

So I uploaded all 28 pictures to Flickr, and put them into a photo set. From the photo set page you can view all the images as a slide show, which is currently my preferred method of displaying the entire sequence.

Manduca Update: They're Wandering!

It's sad but true: my cute little caterpillars will soon be caterpillars no more.

Once a Manduca sexta decides that it has grown enough, it starts the process of pupation, wherein it metamorphoses into a moth. The first thing to go is the desire to eat: the caterpillar stops feeding, and eventually evacuates its gut (which creates a grand mess when rearing them on artificial diet in small cups).

After the caterpillar stops feeding it begins to look for a pupation site. Manduca sexta pupates in the soil, not on its host plant, so the caterpillar descends from the plant and walks around until it finds a suitable area of soil to dig in. During this stage it is called a wanderer, and it's easily identifiable because its cuticle becomes shinier/slicker, as well as somewhat transparent, exposing some of its internal organs. Manduca typically wanders at night, most likely to avoid predation.

On Saturday morning I opened up my cages and saw two wanderers, and by midnight another seven had started wandering. Since I had nothing better to do at 2am on a Sunday morning, I decided to take one of the wanderers outside and drop it in my garden patch to see what it would do. I'd never observed a wanderer wandering in the "wild" before, so I was unsure how long the process would take or what I would see. After promising that I would not let the caterpillar escape, I headed outside with it, as well as my camera and a flashlight.

Here's the wanderer just after I put it down on the soil:

wandering M. sexta
M. sexta fifth instar wanderer at night.

The black shapes you can see on the top of the caterpillar (in its middle segments) are its hearts. Insects have an open circulatory system, and caterpillars have a number of hearts arranged in series traveling much of the length of their body. In fact, the easiest method of determining if a caterpillar is a wanderer is whether you can see its hearts: if you can, then it almost certainly is one. You can see the hearts beating when you hold a wanderer in your hand; as you look at the pictures below note the changes in the hearts' shape.

I plopped the wanderer down around 2:14 am, and after walking about a meter, it found the place it would eventually dig in (at 2:19 am). Here's the spot it chose:

M. sexta pupating, just starting digging its hole.
Wandering fifth instar M. sexta.

Just after the picture above was taken, the caterpillar started digging. This was garden soil that hadn't been turned in a while, so the soil was compacted. The caterpillar dug with its head and front legs (which made it impossible for me to see how it was actually digging), though it also seemed to be expanding and contracting its body every now and then to help move the soil.

I won't post all the pictures I took of the process in this post, but here are a few to illustrate what happened:

2:32 am
2:32 am

2:49 am

3:01 am
3:01 am

In about 45 minutes the caterpillar had found a spot to pupate and pretty much finished digging itself in. At this point I decided that I should stop the cute little guy, mainly because I felt bad forcing the caterpillar to waste all its stored-up energy digging a hole I was just going to yank it out of. I carefully uncovered the caterpillar to see how it was arranged under the soil, and was surprised to find that it had twisted more than 270 degrees on its way underground.

An excavated M. sexta after it had dug most of its body into soil (uncovered immediately after the 3:01 am picture).

I put the caterpillar into a pupation cage so that it could go bury itself under some cellulose bedding and pupate in a controlled environment (where I can be sure that it won't escape as a moth). I expect all of the caterpillars will start wandering within the week, meaning that the end of the great tomato leaf harvest of 2004 is finally in sight.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

More Manduca Pictures: Spiracles and Tracheae

While writing my most recent Manduca picture post developmental biology and anatomy lesson, I edited and uploaded more pictures than I ended up using. I was considering just posting them in an "OK, here are some more pretty pictures" post, but Prashant (of Prashant Mullick) saved me from that awful fate by leaving a comment asking what the "eye spots" on the side of the caterpillars are for.

On to the first picture, which prominently features the "eye spots":

Manduca side view
Side view of a fifth instar Manduca sexta.

Before I talk about the "eye spots", I'll introduce a little bit of insect respiratory physiology. Insects deliver oxygen to their cells using tracheae, air-filled tubes that travel throughout their bodies. These tracheae branch into smaller tracheoles, which travel near virtually every cell of the insect's body. While insects do have a respiratory pigment (hemocyanin, in contrast to vertebrates' hemoglobin), most of an insect cell's oxygen demand is supplied by air diffusing directly from the outside atmosphere through the tracheal system to the cell, and thus insect hemolymph (blood) plays little role in oxygen delivery.

The "eye spots" are actually M. sexta's spiracles, the openings to their tracheal system. These spiracles can be opened and closed, and it is hypothesized that this gating mechanism evolved to reduce water loss. Each spiracle connects to a single large trachea, which then branches out and supplies oxygen to the nearby tissue. The trachea between segments are often interconnected by longitudinal tracheae, so if one spiracle doesn't open, oxygen can still be delivered to the tissue.

Since insects have a respiratory system that is connected directly to the outside air through spiracles, their mouths play no role in respiration, and insects have no functional equivalent of lungs or gills.

Manduca feeding
A fifth instar Manduca sexta feeding on tomato leaf.

The white circle around each spiracle marks its edge. The spiracles in these pictures are closed; you are seeing the pigmented spiracular cover, not the inside of the tracheal system. Manduca open their spiracles only rarely; I watched a M. sexta's spiracles under a microscope for about 15 minutes on Friday, but didn't see a single spiracle open. They're able to open their spiracles so rarely because they have a very low metabolic rate, and thus consume relatively little oxygen (they're ectotherms; endotherms, like humans, have on average a metabolic rate seven times greater than ectotherms of a similar mass).

The spiracles do indeed appear as though they are intended to look like eye spots. I haven't seen any papers on this (ed.: And how many Manduca papers have you read in the past year? That's right, pal: zero), but it does seem likely that they're using them to make predators think twice before attacking. The caterpillar may be attempting to make its terminal segment appear as though it is its head, luring predators into mistakenly attack its hind end first, which would allow the caterpillar a chance to fight back (now now, don't laugh).

Prashant also brought up another good question: do related species of Manduca have the same spiracular cover designs? There are a number of species in the genus Manduca besides M. sexta, including M. quinquemaculata (larval picture), M. albiplaga, M. florestan (larval picture), M. jasminearum (larval picture), M. muscosa (larval picture), M. occulta (larval picture, enlarge the image to see a spiracle near the head), and M. rustica (larval picture). For a more complete list look here (scroll down to the genus Manduca).

All of the species above share the same black-in-white spiracle design, though the species vary in the prominence of their spiracles, and it appears that M. sexta is the only species in this list with yellow coloring on its spiracles. However, with only a few pictures available for each species' larva, it's hard to come to solid conclusions. I know that M. sexta's coloration depends somewhat on the diet it is fed (e.g. this picture of a caterpillar reared on artificial diet), and it is relatively easy to find pictures of M. sexta larvae where the spiracles are somewhat differently colored.

As a side note, M. quinquemaculata, besides having the coolest epithet ever (it rolls off the tongue so beautifully), is the actual tomato hornworm; M. sexta is more properly called the tobacco hornworm.

Incidentally, insect blood is greenish, not red, because it lacks hemoglobin (the red oxygen-carrying compound in vertebrate blood); instead it contains hemocyanin, which is copper-based and thus blue-green when oxidized.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


I was just about done composing a lengthy post in response to Prashant's recent comment, but my browser (Firefox) crashed and I lost the entire thing. The post was at least 3 pages long, and had about 10-15 links in it. They're all gone.

Oh well ... off to rewrite the whole thing.

Friday, September 24, 2004

"Bug" photoshop contest

Worth1000 has a ton of great photoshop contests, but BoingBoing just linked to one that I just can't do anything but gush over: a contest where people swap bugs with real-life objects (or vice-versa).

mantid bike

My only complaint is that most of the items actually contain insects, not bugs (bugs are an order under class Insecta). Even worse, some contain spiders (which are not even insects), and a few use mollusks (which aren't even in the same phylum as insects). But hey, it's artists working with invertebrates ... how could I complain? (ed.: you just did ...)

I so want the beetle backpack ...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

They're not so little anymore

I finished writing my test last night (a full 18 hours early!), but unfortunately I was too tired to edit and post the Manduca pictures I'd taken the previous day. So, instead of posting up two-day-old pictures, I decided to take some new ones this afternoon.

Manduca whole body

This caterpillar is now in its fifth instar. If you haven't done so already, go back and look at the first instar pictures (and the third instar ones if you want); those first instar pictures were taken on September 10th, a mere 13 days ago. What was a one- to ten-milligram bundle of cuteness is now a two- to three-gram tomato plant defoliating behemoth (and, if anything, even cuter).

You may or may not know that insects are supposed to have three pairs of legs (six legs total), while spiders have four pairs of legs (eight legs total). Knowing this, let's count the legs on the caterpillar pictured above. A quick count reveals that the caterpillar has sixteen legs (eight pairs), significantly more than the six it's supposed to have. Are caterpillars not insects? Have we been wrong all along in believing that insects have six legs?

Manduca head and true legs

The resolution to this great leg-counting problem is to notice that the first three pairs of legs look significantly different from the last five pairs of legs. Only the first three pairs of legs (the black and white striped ones) are true legs: they have a hardened exoskeleton with joints, and are found on the insect's thorax. The other five pairs of "legs" are actually extensions of the caterpillar's body wall called prolegs, and are not true legs. At the end of the prolegs are a number of small hooks, called crochets, that are used to attach to whatever substrate the caterpillar is currently on. It is these crochets that provide the majority of a caterpillar's "sticking power" on branches.

Manduca end
Hind end of a fifth instar Manduca sexta. The crochets are visible at the very end of the proleg.

The prolegs are not hardened structures, instead they are shaped primarily by the turgor pressure of the insect's hemolymph (blood). When the caterpillar wants to move, muscles on the body wall retract the soft prolegs into the body cavity (which also disengages the crochets), and when the caterpillar wants to reattach the prolegs, it relaxes the retractor muscles, which allows the prolegs to extend using the hemolymph's turgor pressure.

Here's a sequence showing a caterpillar walking forward that demonstrates the proleg retraction and extension:

Manduca walking pt.1
Manduca walking pt.2
Two sequential images of a M. sexta walking forward.

In the first (top) image two of the prolegs are retracted into the body cavity. In the second image those two prolegs have moved forward, are extended, and their crochets are attached to the substrate (the crochets are visible at the end of the prolegs). Here's a closer-cropped version of the first image showing the proleg retraction:

Manduca walking pt.1 zoom

The caterpillars are now less than a week away from pupation. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Tangled Bank #12 is online

Tangled Bank Blutton
Kevin at LeanLeft has posted Tangled Bank #12, the most recent installment of the bi-weekly collection of biology-related weblog posts.

My submission this time was my recent caterpillar posts. I took some pictures yesterday of the cute little guys (who aren't so little anymore), but unfortunately I have a test to finish writing for tomorrow, so I won't be able to post them until after that gets done. (I know, I know ... where are my priorities?)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

PowerPoint File Sizes

I've been creating a lot of PowerPoint presentations from scratch for my new course, and have been trawling the web and my various media CDs for good visual supplements. Recently I discovered that I could just click and drag images straight from web pages and the file explorer into PowerPoint, which I was quite pleased about since it saved me a lot of clicks.

Unfortunately, my new image-heavy presentations were getting large. And not just "oh, it won't fit on a floppy anymore" large, but LARGE. One presentation was 70 MB, and another swelled to 95 MB. The 70 MB file was somewhat understandable, as it had more than 80 slides, and almost every slide had at least one image (though they were all small jpg's to begin with). The 95 MB file was ridiculous, however, as I had only added 21 images, and I knew for a fact that all of the images were either jpgs or gifs that were less than 200 KB to begin with.

A few quick searches on Google found the solution (on a Microsoft page, no less). Apparently inserting images by dragging or pasting them onto a slide can automatically convert them into wmf (Windows MetaFile) format, which sounds suspiciously like it has about as much compression as a bitmap.

To rectify the swollen file size, the Microsoft page suggested copying the images from the within the PowerPoint file and then doing a "paste special" as jpgs, to convert the images to jpgs. I tried this and the pasted images were not as crisp as the originals, so I went back and found the original images (I always include the source URL of the image on its slide as a reference), and reinserted them all using "Insert / image from file." After doing this the file had the exact same images with the exact same resolution, but the file was 1.8 MB instead of 95 MB.

What a difference a picture insertion method makes.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Tangled Bank #12 Reminder

Tangled Bank Blutton
The twelfth Tangled Bank will be posted this coming Wednesday by Kevin at LeanLeft. E-mail submissions to Kevin, PZ Myers, or the Tangled Bank e-mail address.

Arrr, I knew it would never last

Alas, PZ Myers has conquered Dread Cap'n PZ and returned the blog to its non-pirate self. But never fear, I have a screen-cap of Dread Cap'n PZ's creation in all its glory from the very first night it was published:

Pirate Pharyngula's page

If you're wondering how he did it, PZ explains it all here. For those who still want to read Pharyngula in pirate-speak (and who wouldn't?), you can at

If you want to write pirate-dialect yourself, try the Pirate Translator at the Talk Like a Pirate Day website.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Donating Blood

Yesterday my SO and I both gave blood at the local Red Cross donation center. I figured the center's eight recliners would be crowded mid-day on a Saturday, but except for one person who came in as we were enjoying our free juice, my SO and I were the only two people donating for the hour we were there.

Only 5% of the eligible population donates blood every year. Are you one of those 5%?
Red cross image

If you're not sure about your eligibility, check the Red Cross's blood donation eligibility guidelines. I have acquaintances who've told me, "Oh, I'd love to give blood, but they can't take my blood because of X," but when I've looked up X I've often found that it doesn't actually prevent them from giving blood. Let's take two common examples:

Blood pressure, high: "Acceptable as long as your blood pressure is below 180 systolic (first number) and below 100 diastolic (second number) at the time of donation. Medications for high blood pressure do not disqualify you from donating."

Diabetes mellitus: "Acceptable two weeks after starting insulin. Medications to lower your glucose level do not disqualify you from donating. Those who since 1980, received an injection of bovine (beef) insulin made from cattle from the United Kingdom are not eligible to donate. This requirement is related to concerns about variant CJD, or 'mad cow' disease."

The bottom line is that you shouldn't rely on what you've heard from other people or intuited yourself to determine your eligibility, but instead should check with your doctor or local blood donation organization. After all, you don't want to be missing out on all those free cookies and juice.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Pharyngula's been taken over by pirates!

PZ Myers Dread Cap'n PZ has switched Pharyngula over t' a pirate theme. T' aftground be great, t' dialect be wonderful, and he's even switched all t' comments over t' pirate-speak. Da fällt mir doch der Papagei von der Schulter!

Headline news

I just flipped over to CNN's homepage, and there were three Iraq-related headlines that caught my eye.

CNN's homepage showing three contrasting headlines
Shall we play a game of "which one of these is not like the others?"

Friday, September 17, 2004

Taxes on school supplies

CNN and the Oakland Tribune both have articles describing a recent tax increase that's been handed to school teachers. OK, so technically it's not a tax increase, it's the removal of the California state tax credit and a federal tax deduction, both of which allowed teachers to get back some of the money they pay out-of-pocket for school supplies (e.g. pens, paper, printer ink, art supplies). This means that teachers are paying more in taxes than they did last year, and are paying them on supplies that their school districts should be providing anyway.

Now I could perfectly understand the removal of the tax credits / deductions if the federal and state budgets included drastically increased supply budgets for schools, and it had been shown that teachers were no longer spending their own money for classroom supplies. But this hasn't happened.

I'm not typically anti-tax, but this seems like a case where the state should be paying for the items in the first place. Thus the least we can do is acknowledge that our school budgets are woefully inadequate, and give our teachers a small break on the supplies they purchase. Of course we should really just increase school supply budgets, but that would mean raising taxes on everyone, not just teachers ...

Oh, and if you're wondering, the tax breaks only apply to K-12 teachers, not community college teachers, so they have no relevance to me personally.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Mom, come quick! My caterpillar's head just fell off!

After a very long and hectic day, I found a few spare moments around sunset to take some pictures of my happily growing caterpillars. Just about all they've done since the last pictures I posted is eat, and it shows:

Third instar Manduca on a tomato stem
Third instar Manduca sexta on the defoliated stem of a tomato plant.

It's hard to believe that just last week (a mere 168 hours ago) they were hatching out of their little eggs and taking their first bite of a tomato leaf. Now they're seasoned tomato leaf-devouring pros who are consuming their own mass in leaves daily. They're growing up so quickly!

The caterpillar pictured above is in its third instar, meaning that it's molted twice since it hatched. It's near the end of its third instar, which you can tell by comparing the size of its head capsule to its body. Hardened portions of a caterpillar's body (its head capsule) can't expand in size within an instar; the caterpillars have to molt if they want to get a bigger head. However, soft portions of a caterpillar's body can grow in size, so as a caterpillar grows within an instar their head capsule gets proportionally smaller than their body. One method to determine the instar a caterpillar is in, without closely monitoring its development, is to measure the animal's head capsule width.

When it comes time to molt, the caterpillar doesn't bother with trying to expand its old head capsule. It grows an entirely new head capsule behind the old one, digests away all the material contained within the old head capsule, and then just tosses the old capsule aside.

Third to fourth instar mold of M. sexta
A M. sexta undergoing its third to fourth instar molt. Note that the head capsule appears clearer than normal and has been pushed forward and down.

This picture shows a M. sexta that is in the middle of its third molt (between the third and fourth instars). To see the molt in progress, compare this picture with the prior one in the post. The head capsule is more translucent than normal, due to the digestion of contents within. The head capsule is also starting to be pushed off the caterpillar's body (it's further forward and lower than normal) as the new capsule grows in behind it. About one of the only things that the caterpillar hasn't digested off the old capsule are its mandibles - they're the two little black spots that you can see at the bottom of the old head capsule.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Ocean Surface Temperatures

I'm exhausted, as I have been for most of the day, but I'm still not even close to finishing my lecture for tomorrow (on worldwide habitat diversity, among other things), so tonight doesn't look like it's going to be nearly as sleep-filled as I'd like. I put off lecture writing to ensure that I got my data analysis lab for tomorrow written, the text of which ended up reaching nine pages. Summarizing all of Tufte in two pages, and an entire statistics course in five pages, was fun.

One cool thing I did find tonight, though, were some NOAA Sea Surface Temperature Contour Charts (thumbnail-free link). They're apparently updated every few days, and are tremendously detailed. The 50km worldwide map has just filled my "Worldwide Ocean Temperatures" slide perfectly.

Here's the current map of North America:

NOAA Ocean Surface Temperature Map of the US
NOAA surface ocean temperature map based on satellite data from 9/11/2004 through 9/12/2004.

Of course the problem with these maps is that I'm noticing all the locations that have luxuriously warm water, where I could be lounging on a beach gazing up at the stars right now after a long day of casual diving. The Sea of Cortez looks especially appealing right now, and it's only a few hours drive away ...

Oh well, reality calls.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


My SO and I made a batch of homemade chicken ravioli this weekend, and it was very refreshing to come home tonight after a long day and finish up the leftovers. We hadn't made any ravioli for at least three years, which was far too long.

Ravioli are relatively uncomplicated to make, assuming you have the right equipment and some time to devote to the process. The pasta dough is just your regular basic pasta dough (flour and eggs), rolled out with a pasta roller into thin sheets (though you could also roll it by hand), and then filled with clumps of your favorite filling. We use a filling of chicken, onion, carrot, and garlic, sauteed with a bit of wine, and then mixed with eggs and pecorino romano cheese. The ravioli are delicious with a very simple sauce of melted butter and grated cheese.

[note: Whoever wrote Blogger's spell-checker dictionary is not much of a gourmet; it doesn't recognize ravioli, pecorino, or sauteed.]

Monday, September 13, 2004

Forged Documents?

There's been a huge kerfuffle over recently released memos relating to George Bush's National Guard service. A lot of blogging time, and even national media attention, was quickly devoted to claims that these memos were modern-day forgeries (good summary here). Interestingly, it looks like a lot of the forgery speculation was just that, as it appears that the documents may well be genuine (see here for a good recap). But, of course, that news isn't getting front page attention.

This has been a good example of the power networked people have to bring an issue to light (both pro- and con- forgery). It's also a good example of the necessity to not rely solely on back-of-the-envelope analyses done by non-experts. Based on rudimentary analyses it certainly seemed like the documents could be forgeries, but the analyses that were performed had significant flaws. Many of the claims made in posts and articles that stated the memos were a forgery have since been shown to be completely false, and it seems like a little background research on the part of the authors could have quickly cleared up most of the points pre-publishing.

This is why peer-reviewed publishing is such a critical part of science. If a forgery-claim article had been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication, reviewers who were already knowledgeable in typography would have had time to look over the claims. They probably would have immediately known that much of what was said about typewriters of the time was false, and even if they didn't have all the background information necessary to check the claims at their disposal, they would have been able to quickly find what was needed. This actually happened with these memos, as this example shows:
"Bouffard, the Ohio document specialist, said that he had dismissed the Bush documents in an interview with The New York Times because the letters and formatting of the Bush memos did not match any of the 4,000 samples in his database. But Bouffard yesterday said that he had not considered one of the machines whose type is not logged in his database: the IBM Selectric Composer. Once he compared the Bush memos to Selectric Composer samples obtained from Interpol, the international police agency, Bouffard said his view shifted." (from The Boston Globe)
This is an expert doing what an expert should do - forming an initial hypothesis using data that are available, but then fully researching the issue before coming to a final conclusion. The problem is that coming to that final conclusion, even if you're an expert, takes time.

And, as a final note, I've now learned more about the abilities of high-end typewriters of the 1970's than I ever thought I would. (via Blogger news)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

A dead fetus and not a doctor to be found

Both PZ Myers at Pharyngula and Rivka at Respectful of Otters have posted about the article "Between a Woman and Her Doctor," which describes a pregnant woman's ordeal after discovering that virtually no doctor would perform the safest-known procedure to remove the 19-week-old dead fetus that was inside of her. Both of their comments are excellent, and the original article is a must-read.

Threat Levels

Today's Doonesbury is a good one. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

First Instar Caterpillar Cuteness

I'm pleased to report that the surviving caterpillars are all doing well. We lost a good number due to the shipping snafu, but I'm pretty sure there are more than 20 survivors. It was a nice sunny day here, so I snapped a few pictures of the cute little guys on their tomato leaves.

These are Manduca sexta, more commonly known as the tobacco hornworm. They can feed on most solanaceous plants (tobacco, peppers, eggplant, etc.), though people often recognize them as pests they've seen devouring their tomato plants. M. sexta has historically been a major commercial pest of tobacco and tomato, though with the recent development of caterpillar-specific pesticides (BT) I'm not sure of their current pest status. They are, however, one of the most studied caterpillars around.

feeding first instar Manduca

This caterpillar hatched about 24 hours before the picture above was taken. Most of a caterpillar's body is quite soft, the main exception being the hardened (sclerotized) head capsule. The head of the caterpillar in the picture above is to the right, munching away at the hole in the leaf.

One of M. sexta's most distinctive features is its adorably cute black tail, which is not a spike or stinger or anything like that (it's quite soft, actually). While I don't know of any physiological functions of the tail (development proceeds quite normally if the tail is broken off), my favored joke hypothesis is that it evolved as a handle so entomologists could pick the caterpillars up more easily.

If you look closely you can see a number of small circles (1 per segment) on the side of the caterpillar's body. These are probably spiracles, openings to the caterpillar's tracheal system, which delivers air to the cells of its body.

Developing insects molt their exoskeletons a number of times as they grow, and these molts divide an insect's larval (or juvenile, for insects that don't pupate) portion of its lifecycle into a number of instars. These caterpillars haven't molted yet, so they're still in their first instar. They'll likely molt in a day or two, at which point they'll become second instars. M. sexta typically goes through four larval molts (five instars) before pupating and eventually turning into a relatively large moth.

Three CUTE 1st instar Manduca

First instar M. sexta larvae are very small: they're less than a centimeter long, and weigh approximately 1-10 milligrams (~1mg coming out of the egg, ~10mg when they molt to the second instar). I'll try to post pictures of their development in the weeks to come, and if all goes well in about three weeks they should weigh close to ten grams.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Caterpillar Chaos

Earlier this week we got an order of prepared slides delivered, and it was almost like Christmas had come early. They arrived weeks before we truly needed them, and they're much clearer than the faded 20+ year old slides we have been using. I even thought, "maybe I should write a post about something going right for a change," but got busy with other things. Well, I should have (ed.: and you just did, pal).

Early in the summer I placed an order with my campus purchasing department to have some caterpillar eggs come in either this week or next week, but never heard back regarding when they were supposed to arrive. I also had a separate order placed for some food (artificial diet) and rearing containers, but haven't seen anything from that order yet (even though it too was placed months ago).

On Thursday I walked into lab early to make sure my equipment was set up (trying desperately to ensure that my dream did not become a prescient dream), and what should I find but two vials of caterpillar eggs on the table at the front of the lab. Typically the company ships the eggs so that they arrive a few days before hatching, but these eggs had already hatched by the time I got to them. Neither our lab tech nor our shipping department had bothered to inform me that the caterpillars had arrived and hatched. It was apparent that at least some had hatched hours before I got there, since there were already a few dead hatchlings in the vials. There was no food in the vials, and no artificial diet, host plants, or rearing containers anywhere in sight.

So, instead of having lunch I got to rush over to our plant folks and see if they had any plants that would work as food (they did), and then rummage around the stock room for containers to rear them in. Some students helped me set up the cute little guys, and I think the majority will survive, but it was a pretty close call.

Since this species of caterpillar has been shown to have a preference for the food it's reared on immediately after hatching, I probably should keep rearing them on natural leaves, which entails a lot more work and will get expensive if our plant people decide to stop sacrificing their plants to the cause.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Tangled Bank #11

Tangled Bank Blutton
John at Archy has posted Tangled Bank #11; it's a good collection of recent biology-related weblog posts. Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I didn't even know this was possible ...

While browsing the New England Journal of Medicine site I found this picture in their medical images section (note: the very squeamish might not want to look at the full image).


Apparently the young woman in question had a bone tumor in her femur and "the middle and distal portions of the tibia, along with the foot and ankle, were rotated 180 degrees and attached to the proximal femur so that the ankle joint could act as the knee joint." To translate, they removed a large fraction of her femur and then fused her tibia to the remainder of her femur, rotating the tibia 180 degrees so the foot pointed backwards. The point of the rotation was so that the ankle joint could function as a knee, which apparently works quite well, as can be seen in this video. The procedure is known as a rotationplasty.

The amount of biological knowledge that went into this one operation is astounding, especially considering that the young woman was five (she's now 12) when this operation occurred, so she's grown significantly since the operation.

If you want more information, there are some abstracts available, as well as a news article discussing the case above.

And, in the file of "oh man is that wrong," the hospital that performed this surgery was The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, whose website is (note the acronym).

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Survey Says ...

Full-text site feeds were preferred over short-feeds by a 2:1 ratio (counting only those who were interested in such things), and thus Rhosgobel now features full-text Atom feeds. Enjoy!

Considering that a whopping six people voted, however, I think the real lesson is that most people don't read Rhosgobel via the Atom feed.

Monday, September 06, 2004


While we here in the US honor our workers today on Labor Day, I thought it would be appropriate to honor some of biology's hardest workers. These organisms didn't take the easy way out, signing up for a life at pH 7 and a nice cozy 30°C with two weeks of paid vacation a year, but instead took the path less traveled and choose a life at the extremes of environmental possibility on Earth. We call them extremophiles, and today I'll list a few of the currently known record holders.

Temperature: As humans we can probably sympathize with the difficulties of surviving in temperature extremes better than any other environmental condition.

Category: High temperature
Term: Hyperthermophile
Species (domain): Pyrolobus fumarii (Archaea)
Habitat: Undersea hydrothermal vents
Minimum tolerated: 90°C (194°F)
Optimum conditions: 106°C (223°F)
Maximum tolerated: 113°C (235°F)
Notes: This archaean's optimum temperature for growth is above the boiling point of water at sea level. However, since this critter lives at the bottom of the ocean, the high water pressures prevent water from boiling, and thus the archaean has liquid water to live in. Next time your neighbor says that the 86°F day (30°C) is "roasting", remind them that Pyrolobus fumarii can survive, and actually requires, temperatures 60°C warmer. I've read (but can't find the source now) that an hour in a typical autoclave will not kill this archaean (and actually, wouldn't an hour outside of an autoclave be worse?)

Category: Low temperature
Term: Psychrophile
Species (domain): Polaromonas vacuolata (Bacteria)
Habitat: Sea ice
Minimum tolerated: 0°C (32°F)
Optimum conditions: 4°C (39°F)
Maximum tolerated: 12°C (54°F)
Notes: I suspect that the minimum temperature for this bacterium may be lower, as I have seen references to polar fish that can survive in water temperatures down to -1.86°C. If polar fish can do it, bacteria can probably do it too.

pH:Acidity and alkalinity do horrible things to biological molecules. Human extracellular fluids (e.g. blood) are typically maintained at pH 7.4, and death usually results if they vary by more than a pH unit ("The pH range of 6.8 to 7.8 in the extracellular fluid is generally compatible with life," reports Berne et al.'s human physiology text).

Category: Low pH
Term: Acidophile
Species (domain): Picrophilus oshimae (Archaea)
Habitat: Acidic hotsprings
Minimum tolerated: -0.06 (I didn't even know pH could be negative)
Optimum conditions: 0.7
Maximum tolerated: 4
Notes: This archaean also grows optimally at 60°C, so it's a thermophile too. In case you've forgotten your pH scale, this arcahean's optimum pH is approximately one million times more acidic than our body's minimum survivable pH.

Category: High pH
Term: Alkaliphile
Species (domain): Natronobacterium gregoryi (Archaea)
Habitat: Soda lakes (no, they're not the oft-dreamed-of lakes full of Mountain Dew)
Minimum tolerated: 8.5
Optimum conditions: 10
Maximum tolerated: 12
Notes: Not happy to be just the record-holding alkaliphile, Natronobacterium gregoryi prefers to grow in 20% NaCl, making it a halophile.


Category: Pressure
Term: Barophile
Species (domain): MT41 (Mariana Trench-41; Bacteria)
Habitat: Deep ocean sediments
Minimum tolerated: 500 atm
Optimum conditions: 700 atm
Maximum tolerated: >1000 atm
Notes: According to my source this species does not have a formal name yet; it also likes to grow at 10°C, so it's a psychrophile too (it does get awfully cold at the bottom of the ocean).

Category: Salt (NaCl)
Term: Halophile
Species (domain): Halobacterium salinarum (Archaea)
Habitat: Salterns (salt-producing facilities)
Minimum tolerated: 15%
Optimum conditions: 25%
Maximum tolerated: 32% (a saturated solution)
Notes: This organism's maximum is unbeatable, since it's hard to get saltier than a saturated solution. For a comparison, ocean saltwater is approximately 3% NaCl, so Halobacterium salinarum's optimum growth conditions are eight times saltier than the ocean. Humans can't even drink seawater for an extended period of time and live to tell the tale.

It's interesting to note that all these record holders are prokaryotes (Bacteria or Archaea); we eukaryotes are just not very good at this extremophile thing.


Berne, R., M. Levy, B. Koeppen, and B. Stanton. 1998. Physiology. 4th edition. Mosby, MO.

Madigan, M., J. Martinko, and J. Parker. 2003. Brock Biology of Microorganisms. 10th edition. Prentice Hall, NJ.

I love tech support

I ditched Netscape as my browser of choice long ago, and today use primarily Firefox, though I also have Mozilla installed.

Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but my course textbook's instructor media CD was published a few years ago, and specifies Netscape 4.7x as the required browser. The CD contains a user interface (UI) based on Shockwave (ugh ... why can't anyone just use standard HTML?), and while I'll admit that the UI is rather useful when it works (nice search features, descriptions of relevant content on the student CD, etc.), it hardly ever works. The CD's software doesn't recognize Firefox as a compatible browser, won't run in Mozilla, and locks up about 80% of the time in Internet Explorer.

I figured out the directory structure of the CD and found where the textbook figure JPG's were stored the first time I popped the CD in the drive, so I can get the images I want without their program. However, last week I e-mailed the publisher's tech support to report the problem and see if there was a fix. I just heard back, and their long-winded response boils down to two things: install Netscape 4.8 and Shockwave 8.5 (the newest version is 10.x). They made no suggestions for running the program in any of the three browsers I specifically asked about, and didn't say anything about patches for their media CD. Mozilla and Firefox are both top-of-the-line browsers, while Netscape 4.8 is two years old, and its rendering engine is apparently based on pre-1998 code (discussed in this message board forum).

I'm sorry, but I'm not going to install a two year old browser based on seven year old code that doesn't support modern web standards just so I can use a textbook media CD, especially when I don't even have administrator rights to my office PC and thus have to call campus tech support to install anything.

The cluelessness of the publisher's response is what baffles me. I know I'm not the first person to report problems with their CD. I have three different browsers installed, and yet all they can say is to install a fourth browser and an old version of Shockwave. You'd think that sometime in the past two years they would have at least developed a workaround or patch so that their CD's UI could run in Internet Explorer.


Sunday, September 05, 2004

Tangled Bank Reminder

Tangled Bank Blutton
The next edition of the Tangled Bank (#11) will be hosted by John over at Archy. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday morning when John arrives at work. Lets hope, for all the procrastinators out there, that he's not a morning lark.

I've sent in my submission ... have you sent yours?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Easiest. Dream interpretation. Ever.

Last night I had a dream about teaching lab, which is unusual since I don't typically have (or remember having) teaching dreams.

The dream started off with me heading into my Thursday lab section only a minute or two before it was scheduled to start. This isn't atypical for me, since I usually get all the lab equipment set up and the computer ready to go the morning before lab.

In the dream I was running behind and hadn't done any computer setup. As I walked into the room all my students were patiently waiting for me to start, so I headed over to the computer to get started, but noticed that the setup had changed. Instead of having a computer on a table in the corner of the room like usual, the A/V folks had installed a new computer on a computer desk/podium that faced the room. There was no room to put papers down next to the keyboard, and the monitor was small (reminiscent of 1980's monochrome monitors) and pointing down, which made it hard to see. I decided that now wasn't time to worry about the new computer, and started looking for the projector remote.

Now why I was looking for a projector remote is beyond me, since we don't have a remote for the data projector in that lab; I use a meter-stick (or other pointer) to push the buttons on the projector, which hangs about nine feet off the floor. But, in the dream, I found a remote. Actually, I found two of them. One remote was huge and horribly complicated, so I decided to use the other. It was a typical projector remote with far too many buttons on it, so I spent a while looking for the power button, but finally found it. I turned on the projector, and only then noticed that the A/V folks had also installed new projectors, one smallish one facing the front of the room, and a huge triangular projector that faced the back. I guess the second remote was for the new wacky projector.

Now that I had turned on the projector it was time to get my slides up. I went back to the oddly set up computer and tried to adjust the monitor so I could see the screen better. At one point I put the monitor on its back so it was pointing at the ceiling, but thought better of that, and after a short while decided that I'd just have to live with the odd setup so I could get on with class.

I then noticed that the computer people had installed some new-fangled version of Windows on the computer. There was some semi-circular menu that I couldn't figure out at the bottom-center of the screen, but I noticed that one of the buttons in the menu looked like a PowerPoint icon, so I clicked it.

The program that started looked like PowerPoint, but had some other name on the flash-screen. I tried to open my presentation file, but the program gave an error message and wouldn't open it. At this point some students laughed, and I realized that they were, of course, watching everything I was doing since the projector was now on. Not having time to worry about that at the moment, I looked at the program and noticed that it wasn't actually PowerPoint, but instead was some cheap knockoff version that wouldn't support my files (something like "PeoplePoint," though I don't remember the name), so I closed the program, and hunted for the start menu. I finally found the menu by pressing the start menu key on the keyboard, but found almost nothing in it (there was a "PeoplePoint" folder, but nothing for PowerPoint or any Office products), so I closed that and looked on the desktop. I saw an icon that looked like PowerPoint, so I clicked on it, but it was the cheap knockoff again. I tried to open my file a second time, with the same lack of success.

By this point stress was really starting to set in, as I needed my slides to give my introduction to the lab, and the lab period was quickly ticking away. I wondered briefly what the students would say about this on my evaluation forms. A few students were coming up to try and help, and I was about to give up and just talk through the introduction, when I opened the start menu again and found that a PowerPoint menu item had miraculously appeared. I told the students to go back to their seats, clicked on the menu item, and was relieved to see the real PowerPoint starting.

I used PowerPoint to open my slides (without an error message), and was about to start talking when I realized that these were the wrong slides. They were the slides from the first lab of the week, and I was doing the second lab of the week (on habitat diversity, the lab that is actually scheduled for this coming Thursday). The students had realized the same thing, and started talking amongst themselves rather loudly.

I remembered that my slides for the lab were still in my G-mail account, so I started up Internet Explorer. (I regularly e-mail files from home to work as a transfer mechanism, but I don't use G-mail to do it, so why they were there I don't know.) A few students commented sarcastically that my use of Internet Explorer probably wouldn't be any better than my use of PeoplePoint. I navigated to the G-mail login screen, but realized that I didn't want my students to know my G-mail account name, since that's my personal account, so I decided to blank the projector so they wouldn't see my login.

I looked through the maze of buttons on the projector remote for the "blank screen" or "no show" button, but couldn't find it. I did find the input button, so I figured that by switching the input I could blank the screen. I hit the input button, and the screen switched to blue for a moment, but then the stupid projector realized that there were no other signals coming into it so it automatically flipped back to the computer input. I tried again, and the same thing happened.

So I looked back at the remote and saw a button that said "mute". "Mute? What the heck is a mute button doing on a video projector?" I asked myself, but after trying a few other buttons without luck I hit the mute button, which did indeed blank the screen. Cursing the designer of the remote, I went back into my e-mail, downloaded the proper PowerPoint file, and opened it up using the real PowerPoint.

I un-blanked (un-muted) the projector, and was about to start giving my lab introduction, when I looked around the lab and realized that the equipment for the lab wasn't out! This lab's equipment is the same equipment our now-retired ecology instructor used to use for a field trip, which is contained in bright yellow plastic toolboxes. There were no bright yellow plastic toolboxes in the room.

Luckily, however, the stockroom containing the toolboxes is right across the hall from my lab. I quickly told my students to do something (I think it was "read the handout" or some other brilliant instruction) and rushed off to get the equipment. Some big lecture halls had just gotten out, so the halls were swamped with slowly moving students.

After I had fought my way past a few students I realized that the stockroom wasn't actually across the hall, but was actually off in another building. I made my way through the hordes of students, trying to find the stockroom. On the way I passed a field geology lab, where a number of students were lugging around rocks of various sizes and colors in a large open area, while other students measured the rocks with small calipers. There were three professors in the field lab area, and they were relaxing around some benches chatting casually while their students worked diligently.

Field geology lab? Students lugging around rocks and measuring them with calipers? Our campus has no such thing. In any case, I finally found the entrance to the newly-moved stockroom (it was behind the field geology lab), and found that the inside was a maze of shelves and corridors. I eventually found the bright yellow toolboxes on a shelf in the very back corner. I pulled them off the shelf, opened them to verify that the equipment was inside (it was), but then noticed that the two shelves below the toolboxes were filled with old Nintendo games.

I looked through a few of the Nintendo games, and was thinking, "Hey, my SO would love to play some of these." Then I realized that stockrooms don't usually have piles of Nintendo games in them, and wondered why they were there. I then remembered that our newly retired ecologist's son had died young, so he had probably brought the games into the stockroom since he didn't want to keep them at home to be constantly reminded of his son's death, but also didn't want to throw them away. It was a sad thought, but then I remembered that I was supposed to be teaching lab, so why was I looking at these stupid games? (As far as I know, our newly retired ecologist has only one son, who is quite alive and attending college, though one of our lab technicians did have a young son die a number of years back.)

I grabbed the toolboxes and stood up, but since I hadn't re-latched the lids after checking their contents, the toolboxes flopped over onto their sides, spilling some of their contents. I hurriedly put everything back and tried to latch the lids, but the latches wouldn't work properly; they just kept opening back up.

And, thankfully, at that point I awoke before something else could go wrong.

So, as I said at the beginning, this is one of the easiest dreams to interpret, eh? While I felt very stressed out during the dream, I woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed, and found the dream amusing. I'm amazed at how well I remember the dream; I almost never remember this many details.

One of the things I like about this dream is how my brain kept coming up with explanations for strange things in the dream. For instance, there were two remotes on the table, so there were two projectors, and the second remote was larger so the second projector was also larger. Then the presence of video games was explained by a personal tragedy that didn't actually happen to the person my brain applied it to. I also love how my brain kept finding new ways to make life hard for me (loading the wrong slides, the stock room moving, classes just getting out, etc.). Looking back on it I think my brain must have been like Nelson from the Simpson's, continually saying "HA ha" as it threw each new obstacle in my course.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Daily Show

I've been too busy this week to pay much attention to the RNC, but like Pharyngula, I have found refuge in the Daily Show. I've had to rely on their web videos (since I don't get cable), and I especially liked this spoof of a pro-Bush video. (via BoingBoing)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Two scary articles

One via BoingBoing, and one via my SO, both scary, but for different reasons.

The first is Mark Forscher's account of being arrested during the Critical Mass bike ride that coincided with the RNC in New York. Here's two choice snippets:
"Suddenly rows of cops in full riot gear rushed us. I turned to ride away but a cop yanked me off my bike and I stopped moving. I was handcuffed with plastic handcuffs (that are a lot tighter than I would have thought) as police threw my bike to the ground and stepped on it. I repeatedly asked if I was being arrested and what the charge was. The police refused to answer me or even make eye contact."

"Although I was one of the first to arrive at the Chelsea piers facility I was one of the last of over 250+ people arrested to leave. I stayed for about 16 hours in the 2nd set of pens without any idea of what the police were doing. Because of the inadequate space I only got about one hour of sleep. In that time period I was also only fed a sample size box of cereal, a small carton of milk and a powerbar"

The second article, The Unpolitical Animal, is from the New Yorker and discusses studies of voter behavior.
"About forty-two per cent of voters, according to Converse’s interpretation of surveys of the 1956 electorate, vote on the basis not of ideology but of perceived self-interest. The rest form political preferences either from their sense of whether times are good or bad (about twenty-five per cent) or from factors that have no discernible “issue content” whatever. Converse put twenty-two per cent of the electorate in this last category. In other words, about twice as many people have no political views as have a coherent political belief system."

"When pollsters ask people for their opinion about an issue, people generally feel obliged to have one. Their answer is duly recorded, and it becomes a datum in a report on “public opinion.” But, after analyzing the results of surveys conducted over time, in which people tended to give different and randomly inconsistent answers to the same questions, Converse concluded that “very substantial portions of the public” hold opinions that are essentially meaningless—off-the-top-of-the-head responses to questions they have never thought about, derived from no underlying set of principles."

"Rephrasing poll questions reveals that many people don’t understand the issues that they have just offered an opinion on. According to polls conducted in 1987 and 1989, for example, between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the public thinks that too little is being spent on welfare, and between sixty-three and sixty-five per cent feels that too little is being spent on assistance to the poor."

"When people are asked whether they favor Bush’s policy of repealing the estate tax, two-thirds say yes—even though the estate tax affects only the wealthiest one or two per cent of the population. ... What is most remarkable about this opinion is that it is unconstrained by other beliefs. Repeal is supported by sixty-six per cent of people who believe that the income gap between the richest and the poorest Americans has increased in recent decades, and that this is a bad thing. And it’s supported by sixty-eight per cent of people who say that the rich pay too little in taxes."
The article delves into the implications of these observations, and is quite enlightening, if rather frightening to this person who likes to believe that he (and most other people) thinks seriously about issues. I do like that the article uses data to make points and test ideas, rather than relying solely on supposition.

Hectic day

The plant phylogeny exercise I had planned to use for the second half of today's lab fell through early this week when the publishers finally told me they couldn't supply me with some required materials (pictures of specific plants that were supposed to go along with the lab). Thus this morning was largely spent finalizing the replacement lab I whipped up wherein the students made a phylogeny of succulent plants, using ones I had borrowed from our plant folks. Unfortunately I only got species names for the plants about 2 hours before lecture (which comes just before lab), so I had to frantically figure out the actual phylogeny of the plants before asking students to do the same.

Add to this a burned out bulb in my lab data projector that A/V spent most of the day attempting to fix, only to realize they didn't have the right bulb (they brought one in on a cart finally), and that I was supposed to be finalizing today's lecture all morning but only got around to that in the last hour before lecture, and we have a fun day. All turned out well, though.

I'm going to post up a few links I found yesterday and then call it a night. It's been a long week, and I still have two labs tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

James Doohan gets a star

As just about anyone who reads this can probably guess, I was a bit of a Trekkie as a kid, including being guilty of owning (and reading) at least two Star Trek Technical/Engineering Manuals. Thus, even though shows like Stargate SG-1 and Lexx have long since replaced Star Trek in my "favorite sci-fi shows" list, finding out that James Doohan recently got a Hollywood star is pretty darn neat. Finding out that he's just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, on the other hand, is saddening.

Jason at has posted some pictures of the unveiling of the star, including a few of other cast members. (via BoingBoing)