Monthly Archives: August 2005

Yecke Appointment Gets Noticed

Cheri Pierson Yecke’s appointment as Florida’s K-12 Chancellor got media attention today. The notice ran from the unexamined stance of the Star Banner that Yecke “previously served as commissioner of education for Minnesota” to the editorial in the Lakeland Ledger that said, “The wish of the University of Minnesota’s biology professor that Yecke become someone else’s headache has come true. She’s coming to Florida, beginning Oct. 1.”

The St. Petersburg Times ran two stories on Yecke. The one by Steve Bousquet takes note in passing that Minnesota failed to confirm her in the job of Education Commissioner. The article by Ron Matus delves much deeper into Yecke’s history of controversy in education administration.

The Lakeland Ledger editorial, Happy to See Her Go?, includes the quote of the day given above. They end with, “Don’t be surprised if, this time next year, a biology professor at a Florida university is posting a Weblog that pleads: ‘Texas, Georgia, somewhere else? Could you hire Yecke and take her away?’”

I was mentioned in the Ledger editorial, but they had an incomplete affiliation for me. I took advantage of their email address for sending letters to the editor to correct that and add a comment about Yecke’s reported stance.

While it is nice to see my name mentioned in my hometown newspaper
(“Happy to See Her Go?”, 08/31), I should note that my affiliation is
the National Center for Science Education
( Yecke’s notion that students should be given an
acknowledgement that there are different beliefs is misguided
in the context of science instruction. Students should be be made
aware that socio-political differences of opinion, such as
antievolution, are a topic for civics, not science. For science, what
matters is not belief but rather the consilience of theory with
the empirical evidence. It is in this arena that antievolution has
been a complete failure, with no theoretical content of its own and
empirical disconfirmation of whatever claims it does make. Students
aren’t dumb; they deserve to get their science instruction straight up
without the dilution of antievolution politics.

We’ll see whether that runs or not.

Update: Yes, they did run my letter. Cool!

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Getting to Know Cheri Yecke

Here are some news clippings on Florida’s new K-12 Chancellor of Education, Cheri Pierson Yecke, from her days as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education…

“[Commissioner of Education, Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke] said the
state standards shouldn’t address creationism, which is based
on the belief that God created the world in six days. The other
main theory, evolution, describes development of life on Earth
from single-celled organisms over about 3.5 billion years.”

However, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio on June 9,
2003, Dr. Yecke stated that she believes ^Severy local district should have
the freedom to teach creationism if that is what they choose.

(Source (2003/06/18))

Update: DarkSyd has a post on DailyKos concerning Cheri Yecke and the likely struggle to come in Florida.
Continue reading

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Florida and Antievolution

My native state hasn’t had headlines go nationwide over antievolution lately. But there are indications that Florida may be one of the next big targets of the antievolution advocates.

Ron Matus at the St. Petersburg Times wrote about this in today’s paper:

Nationally, it’s a raging debate. President Bush weighed in this month. Time magazine devoted its cover story to the subject two weeks ago.

But in Florida, the teaching of intelligent design – the newest, faith-based counterpoint to Darwin’s theory of evolution – is not an issue.

At least, not yet.

Some observers expect the other shoe to drop next year, when Florida education officials revisit state science standards as part of a routine review of what should be taught in Florida schools.

“The question is going to come up,” said Bob Orlopp, science supervisor for Pinellas County schools.

“That’s a healthy time to have discussions of that nature,” said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who chairs the House Education Council and supports alternatives to evolutionary theory.

And even I got quoted a little:

A spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, which tracks intelligent-design skirmishes around the country, said anti-evolution forces typically rev up their campaigns when state science standards are reviewed.

“Florida is primed for the sort of large-scale evolution/creation incident that has grabbed headlines in other parts of the country,” Wesley Elsberry, the center’s information project director, wrote in an e-mail.

If you are in Florida and have an interest in getting involved in having only science taught in science classrooms, drop me a note. It’s not too early to start getting organized.

Florida will be, I expect, one of several places where antievolution is pushed next year as states review their science standards.

Update: I spoke with another reporter today, and sent the following as a followup email.

Continue reading

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An Annual Ritual

I went today to the local Big 5 Sporting Goods store today to prepare the other necessary paperwork needed for falconry: obtaining my hunting license. The molt is about over, and various seasons will start opening up soon. Of course, jackrabbits are fair game year round, but none of our birds thinks that those are good prey items.

But I’m thinking that once the hawks are at flying weight, it will probably be time to take them back to visit the Lee’s vineyard. That would help them get back some flight muscle tone that tends to be lost over the molt.

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Pseudo-Dolphin Click

Whitlow Au’s The Sonar of Dolphins is a treasure-trove of information concerning odontocete biosonar. It does, therefore, cost a fortune. I bought my copy back in 1993, when it was going for $86. To get in on this now, it looks like it will cost you $126.

On page 79, Au gives a mathematical equation from Kamminga and Beitsma (1990) that yields an output with many of the same properties as a dolphin click. The expression is the product of a Gabor function and a gaussian curve.

[tex]\begin{Large}x(t)~=~A~( cos(2\pi f_0 t~+~\theta)) e^{-\pi^{2 \frac{(t – t_o)^2}{\Delta \tau^2}}} \end{Large}[/tex]

[tex]A~=~[/tex] relative amplitude
[tex]f_0~=~[/tex] peak frequency
[tex]t_0~=~[/tex] centroid of the signal
[tex]\Delta \tau~=~[/tex] rms duration of the signal
[tex]\theta~=~[/tex] phase shift


You can substitute the sin() function for cos() in the above equation as well.

I’ve written a Matlab function to encapsulate this:

% click   Returns a vector from a Gabor function and gaussian curve 
%              based on input parameters
% click(time, rel_amp, peak_freq, centroid, rms_dur, phase_shift, sine)
%   where time is a vector of time steps
%         rel_amp is the relative amplitude of the overall waveform
%         peak_freq is the peak frequency
%         centroid is the position of equal energy
%         rms_dur is the length of the signal via an RMS measure
%         phase_shift is the shift, this is multiplied by pi in the function
%         sine is 1 to use a sine function, else cosine is used
% Follows Eq. 5-1 of Whitlow Au's "The Sonar of Dolphins", p.79
% Coded by Wesley R. Elsberry
% Example:
%   t = ones(1,100);
%   for ii = 1:length(t)
%     t(ii) = -4e-5 + ii*1e-6;
%   end
%   w = click(t,1,1e5,9.9e-6,29.9e-6,0.75,0); % Parameters from Au's example
%   plot(w);

function ss = click(time, rel_amp, peak_freq, centroid, rms_dur, ...
  phase_shift, sine);

for ii = 1:length(time)
  if 1 == sine 
    trig_term = cos(2*pi*peak_freq*time(ii) + phase_shift*pi);
    trig_term = sin(2*pi*peak_freq*time(ii) + phase_shift*pi);

  time_diff = (time(ii) - centroid);
  ss(ii) = rel_amp * trig_term ...
    * exp(- (pi^2 * ((time_diff^2)/(rms_dur^2))));

So why bother with pseudo-clicks? I am working on some analyses of approaches to calculate click duration in real signals. But there are multiple approaches in the literature, so which one is best for general use? By using the pseudo-clicks, I can produce waveforms of known characteristics, and add known amounts of noise. Then I can compare the various techniques where everything about the original signal is well-known.

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Some Memories

I was doing some IM chatting with Skip Evans earlier, and we were harking back to what we were doing back in high school. These bits are taken from our chat…

I was working construction in 1977. I was on the survey crew for Superior Paving. I worked summers there from 1977 to 1980.

We did a job on a stretch of state highway near Okeechobee once. We tended to work from 7AM to whenever. Okeechobee closes down hard at 5:30 PM. We didn’t quit work that early very much.

It must have been 1977 for Okeechobee. Star Wars was playing at the theater. I drove by, noticed the sign, and pulled into the almost empty parking lot. I asked the ticket attendant how sales were going, and he said, “The usual.” But the rest of the world loved it.

That was on the way to the lake. I was going to take some pictures. I got to the park, and the fog was already coming in. There was a pier with a bench at the end and a couple necking there. There were about seven cars parked at the base of the pier, with six cars with couples necking. After about 10 minutes the couple at the end of the pier got up, walked to their car, and drove away. The doors popped open on a car, and a couple got out and walked down to the end of the pier. It was a line for the bench on the pier! Each of those couples took a turn.

(Skip asked if I took pictures.)

Of course. I’m sure I have those somewhere. On 6x7cm black and white negative. My first pro-level camera was a Koni-Omega Rapid 6x7cm (2.25 x 2.75 inch) rangefinder.

This is a bit later model, but very similar. (Still use it?) Not now, no. It’s in pretty sad condition. Of course, I picked it up in sad condition originally for $100. I did photography for the Lakeland Little Theater so they had stuff for their playbills. I shot my graduating high school class group photo with it. The lens is freakishly sharp. The aperture and shutter speeds are set on the lens, and the rings go in opposite directions. So once you set an EV value, you can just twist both rings in one direction and your exposure is equivalent. The design goes back to the 1950s, when the Navy requested a camera for fleet operations. Simmons-Omega of New Jersey hooked up with Konica, so the camera body was an American production and the lens was a Konica Hexanon. Oh, yes, I did aerial photography with it, too.

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Florida: Here We Go Again

Update: Drat, this is way old news. I’m backdating the post to put it in the proper place, but it is basically a “never mind” item.

According to James Van Landingham in the Independent Florida Alligator, Florida Representative Dennis Baxley (R – Ocala) has proposed another “academic freedom” bill (House Bill H-837), and cites failure to discuss “intelligent design” as a case where he feels that a student should not only have the standing to sue, but should actually sue.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

[James, "intelligent design" is just creationism, not "a creationist theory". Let's not give these folks undue credit for work not yet performed.]

This, though, was exceptionally ironic:

During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as “leftists” struggling against “mainstream society.” “The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty,” he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist. Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted.

McCarthy had an imaginary list of evildoers that he would not divulge. Baxley apparently has an imaginary list of paranoid people that he won’t divulge. Both of them expected others to act upon facts not in evidence.

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Animal Behavior Society, Day 3

I attended a presentation by Bruce Robertson on evolutionary traps. This describes a situation where a previously reliable signal used to trigger a fitness-increasing response becomes associated instead with fitness reduction when the response is made. An example Robertson gave was that of just-hatched sea turtles, which have to make their way from high on a beach to the water in order to have a chance at living to adulthood. The timing of hatching generally coincided with a phase of the moon such that hatchlings could orient to the moonlight and that would take them to the water. With the introduction of brightly lit human properties on the coast, hatchlings may instead head inland, where it is very unlikely that they will survive. Robertson expanded on this to discuss how preferences in organisms may elicit maladaptive responses to entirely novel cues, and how these situations arise in an evolutionary framework.

In the evening, researchers presented their work in a poster session. This is Diane’s favorite part of almost any scientific conference. Generally, you can directly engage the researcher concerning the work being presented. As a matter of form, there has been a paradigm shift in how one presents a poster. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was pretty much a given that a “poster” presentation was actually comprised of many individually printed sheets of paper that were laid out on backing board. The number of presentations that made use of a single poster-sized printout were generally pretty small. That has changed, inverting the frequencies of each type of presentation. Nowadays, poster-sized printouts comprise most presentations. At the session here at ABS, I only recall one presentation made via the method of tacking up many letter-sized pieces of printed paper. All the rest were poster-sized prints. Clearly, print shops are doing some good business in preparing these materials.

On to the content. I made my way around the pavilion, looking for posters that dealt with bioacoustics, and particularly those where signal analysis played a big role in the research. Of these, I spent more time talking with Jennifer Hamel concerning her work than with anyone else. The following is the abstract from the program:


Jennifer Hamel

Phaneropterine katydids engage in duets as part of their pair-forming system. The calling songs of males in the genus Amblycorypha are complex, and often contain several components produced in varying temporal sequences. There are two described species in the rotundifolia complex, A. alexanderi and A. rotundifolia, that occur in western North Carolina. Both A. alexanderi and A. rotundifolia are cryptic species and do not differ morphologically, but their acoustic signals differ significantly. Because their calling songs are used in pair formation and act as species isolating mechanisms, the analysis of katydid songs offers an easy method for finding undescribed species. Analyses of male songs and duets of an Amblycorypha population at Rich Mountain, N.C., showed both male songs and duets to be significantly different from the species currently known for western North Carolina. Additionally, significant morphological differences were found between this group and a neighboring population of A. alexanderi, suggesting that this population represents an undescribed species in the rotundifolia complex.

(Source: ABS 2005 Abstract Book)

There’s a bit of a difference in terminology between that used by the katydid research community and the marine mammal community. For us (the marine mammal folks), a click is a single transient-like acoustic event, and a click train is a sequence comrpised of a number of clicks with relatively short inter-click intervals. For them (the katydid folks), a single transient-like event is a spike, and a click is a sequence comprised of some number of spikes with relatively short inter-spike intervals. And, of course, the method of production of clicks in, say, bottlenose dolphins and spikes in katydids are quite different. Dolphins produce clicks by passing air through the phonic lips, structures in the nasal passage about 2.5 cm below the blowhole. Katydids utilize a stridulation mechanism, which involves moving a scraper along a file, and in at least some, they may produce tones by exciting a resonance in a tegmen (one of the front pair of wings).

I’m hoping to be able to correspond with Hamel and obtain a sample recording of the Rich Mountain katydid. I’m interested in applying the click-picking techniques I developed for the analysis of dolphin biosonar to other bioacoustic examples, and the katydid call waveform looks like it may be amenable to the same techniques I used.

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Animal Behavior Society, Day 2

We slept in a bit, which meant we missed the keynote talk early in the morning. When we did arrive on site, I certainly did feel some dizziness and breathlessnes. But one I had a seat inside I started to feel better. So I think my stronger reaction to altitude the first day probably had a lot to do with my fatigue from the driving.

In any case, we sat in on the “Cognition” session. The stunning presentation there was by Michael Noonan, who told the audience about killer whales “baiting” gulls. He had photographs and video sequences of killer whales at a facility catching gulls. A four-year-old male calf began spitting out fish at the surface, then watching from below the surface. If a gull attempted to snatch the snack, the calf would try to lunge and grab the bird.

Then his three-year-old half brother picked up the behavior. And then his half-brother’s mother started “birding”. From there, it was picked up by the mother of the four-year-old. A female calf got part of the behavior, spending a chunk of time at the surface spitting water. Finally, an adult male has partially taken up the behavior, but so far the adult male has never been observed to actually make a catch in this fashion.

In the evening, there was part one of a two part workshop on sexual selection. I snagged a handout. I’ll try to describe more later, but right now I need to get some sleep.

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Animal Behavior Society, Day 1

Diane and I said good-bye to our house-sitter and drove to the Animal Behavior Society conference meeting. This year, it is being held in scenic Snowbird, Utah.

We briefly chatted with Colin Allen, who is here with his wife, Lynn, and their two children. Then we were off to the ice-breaker, a barbecue dinner.

After the dinner, we spoke with Michael Noonan, a fellow marine mammalogist. He had a video that he wrote and produced that was in the film competition this evening. The topic was the Asian elephant, and the title of the film was simply, “Elephas maximus: The Asian Elephant”. Other films included one on ethics and enrichment for zoo animals, one on the marine mammals of one of the Canary Islands, and another on individualized strategies of foraging in minke whales.

Unfortunately, I developed a mild headache and nausea following dinner. I wasn’t able to stay through all the films that were shown. I think that I had a relatively mild bout of altitude sickness. Since we’re staying at a hotel back down the mountain in South Jordan, I got to feeling better, though fatigued, when we came back downhill. This is going to be interesting to see if I can avoid further problems in that regard. Anyway, the next step is several hours of sleep.

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Of Frauds and Fingerprints

Over on his weblog, William Dembski has a post making reference to an article on a means of “fingerprinting” textured surfaces, like paper. It is an interesting article. But look what Dembski has to say about it:

The Logic of Fingerprinting

Check out the following article in the July 28th, 2005 issue of Nature, which clearly indicates how improbability arguments can be used to eliminate randomness and infer design: “‘Fingerprinting’ documents and packaging: Unique surface imperfections serve as an easily identifiable feature in the fight against fraud.” I run through the logic here in the first two chapters of The Design Inference.

Well, it is a little troubling how to proceed from this point. Did Dembski fail to read the article? Is Dembski simply spouting something that ID cheerleaders can nod sagely about without regard to whether it happens to accord with reality? Whatever excuse might be given, the plain fact of the matter is that the procedure and principles referred to in the short PDF Dembski cites has nothing whatever to do with Dembski’s “design inference”, and cannot be forced into the framework Dembski claims.

(Continue reading… on

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