Monthly Archives: November 2005

Nature for 2005/11/17

I’m part of a reader survey for the journal Nature, so I have a 13 week subscription dropping into my lap. Therefore, y’all get to hear my comments on these issues, as and where I get time to do so. First up is the 2005/11/17 edition (Vol. 438, No. 17).

Nature has pages that briefly report on research that is published elsewhere. That’s a commendable aim, to note good research as it happens. But sometimes the reporting is a bit too brief… Take the item on page 260, “Undercover Learning”.

Curr. Biol. 15, 1931-1935 (2005)

Wood crickets (Nemobius sylvestris; pictured left) have surprised biologists by appearing to learn from each other.

Crickets that are made to share a cage with predatory spiders will hide under leaves to avoid attack. In experiments led by Isabelle Coolen of the National Center for Scientific Research in Tours, France, crickets that had not been exposed to spiders were found to adopt this hiding behavior when mixed with trained crickets. This suggests that the insects are capable of social learning — a phenomenon that, in insects, researchers have only previously observed in species that live in colonies, such as bees, ants and termites.

What the short summary doesn’t tell us that the longer original article hopefully lays out clearly is a test to make sure that the hiding-under-leaf behavior is not instinctual for this species, in which case simply looking at whether “naive” insects emit the behavior when mixed with “trained” insects is completely uninformative.

Continue reading

Harry Potter Movie

Diane and I went out to see the late showing of the new Harry Potter movie Friday night. We had to figure out where the theater was while we were cutting the show time closely. I sent Diane ahead while I found a parking space, but all turned out well and I made it in in time to see the start of the film. So ads in movie houses reward procrastination.

And the film itself made a nice bit of entertainment. It seems that the direction in this outing has gone in the direction of more straightforward story-telling and less gratuitous eye-candy. Oh, sure, there is eye-candy, but it seems to me that it is deployed more strategically in service of the story in this film than in some of the previous outings. Harry Potter movies are not standalone entertainment, though; you really need to have read the book recently. It essentially is a sequence of animated illustrations to accompany the reader’s experience. Otherwise, the plot would be exceedingly difficult to discern from the few clues given. This is, I think, necessary in a feature-length film. In order to present Rowling’s story in sufficient detail for those unfamiliar with the particular book would require treatment at the length of a mini-series instead.

One nice thing was that Diane and I were able to stay snuggled next to each other through the whole movie. I don’t think that I’ve been to a theater in the past 22 years where I haven’t had to excuse myself for a personal intermission/trip to the men’s room, so this is a welcome change. Ulcerative colitis is quite disruptive of some of the most mundane social rituals. My regards to my surgeon.

Vizslas, Then Off to Pennsylvania

On Oct. 28th, Diane, Ritka, Farli and I went to the 2005 Vizsla Nationals Field Trials held out in the high desert to the west of Bakersfield. One of the people that we met was Scott Braley, who was providing the photographic services for the field trial. It turns out he’s a resident of Oakland, so we’re looking forward to meeting with him again sometime soon.
I gave a talk on Oct. 30th at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Bakersfield. Bakersfield is having its own incident concerning the school board and the teaching of “intelligent design”. I told them to look for a change in terminology, such that calls for “intelligent design” would likely turn into “teach the controversy” or “objective origins” or similar. The pastor, the Rev. Dr. Kimberley Willis, is also a signatory to the Clergy Project, a collection of 9,872 US clergy who hold that faith and the findings of science are compatible.
Diane visited with Tia, a dog owned by Shella Furman, a long-time friend of ours who now lives in Kentucky.
And, of course, Diane spent most of the time at the field trial on horseback. This horse is named Shadow, and apparently was one of the more difficult mounts that could be rented there.
On Nov. 1st, I was on my way to Pennsylvania. Here I am on a Southwest Airlines flight that, for once, was not sold out. Just about everyone on the flight could have had a block of three seats to themselves.
I used the opportunity to take some aerial images of the passing landscape five or six miles down.
Once I was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I got to meet up with some personalities. On the left you see Matthew Chapman, great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, and on the right is Dr. Robert V. Gentry, physicist and young-earth creationist.
Dr. Gentry was holding a press conference to drum up interest in the talk he was giving that evening. The site of the press conference was in the state capitol building, under the rotunda. It’s an impressive location.

Reading Matter for Scott Adams

To me, the most fascinating aspect of the debate over Darwinism versus Intelligent Design is that neither side understands the other side’s argument. Better yet, no one seems to understand their own side’s argument. But that doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.

(Dilbert Blog)

Hey, Scott, while you are boning up on the issues, check out Why Intelligent Design Fails, an anthology with a bunch of scientists (who get paid, oddly enough, for scientific research) taking up the claims of the “intelligent design” advocates.

Here’s the home page for the book put together by Taner Edis. There’s a link to several published reviews. It is selling well, and will be coming out in paperback next year.


I took the test over at Blogthings, and it says …

You Are a Little Scary

You’ve got a nice edge to you. Use it.