Monthly Archives: March 2007

SWINE Meeting April 5th

Got a SWINE announcement in email:


You are cordially invited to attend the next meeting of the East Point Loma Chapter of SWINE.

When? Thursday, April 5th 2007

Wine Imbibing begins at 7:30 and the lecture begins at 8:00 (We only have the facility until 10:00pm)

Where? Hubbs Sea World Research Institute in the Shedd Auditorium (San Diego, CA)

Our illustrious speaker is:

Brent S. Stewart, Ph.D., J.D.
Senior Research Biologist
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

Our Lecture Topic is:

“The baiji, formerly a living fossil, and the whale (not) shark, aka biggest fish on the planet”

Come find out the answers to these questions at the next east Point Loma Chapter of SWINE.

What to bring? Bring wine, bring cheese, chips & dips, and other munchies also appreciated.

Who’s invited? Interested scholars and those interested in scholars.

Driving Instructions:

>From Interstate 5: Exit at Sea World Drive, bear right onto Ingraham St. and turn right at the first stoplight at Perez Cove Way. Hubbs is located on your immediate left and the Shedd Auditorium can be found just inside of the front entrance.

>From Interstate 8: Take 8 west to the Mission Bay Dr./Sports Arena Blvd. exit, turn right. Turn right at the first stoplight at Perez Cove Way.

>From San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field): Take Harbor Dr. to Nimitz which Blvd. Remain on Nimitz which turns into Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Take Ingrahm St./W. Mission Bay Dr. exit. Stay in the same lane until the first stoplight; turn right onto Perez Cove Way.

*Scholar’s Wine Imbibing Nocturnal Enclave:
Dedicated to promoting interspecies communication between humans and swine. Porpoises are viewed as surrogates until pigs get rights denied by zoning regulations.

A Not So Sweet Bloom: Microcystis

Diane and I made it to a Fisheries and Wildlife seminar talk given today by Geoff Horst. Horst is a doctoral candidate who is researching algal blooms in lakes. The particular organism of interest is Microcystis, a cyanobacteria and common biotic component of lakes. The problem is that Microcystis manufactures microcystins, toxins that can cause at least discomfort in swimmers and serious illness or death in vertebrates that actually drink water where a Microcystis bloom is happening.

It appears that Microcystis blooms may be assisted by abundance of zebra mussels in an area. The zebra and quagga mussels may selectively harvest other planktonic organisms and reject Microcystis colonies.

Something Horst is looking into is whether some less time-consuming means of evaluating water samples can indicate the likelihood of a future bloom — before it becomes a past bloom. That is, current methods take so much time that they inevitably only permit one to confirm that a bloom happened some time in the past, not that a bloom is likely to occur at some point in the future. There appears to be some promise in using an enzymatic marker, one that lights up when organisms are expressing a particular enzyme used to harvest phosphorus. This was another part of Horst’s work, establishing that an inverse relationship existed between phosphorus-limited populations and algal blooms: the less available phosphorus, the less likely a bloom was. Between the two, Horst thinks that he may be able to establish a technique for actually getting to predict likely bloom conditions.

This is pretty new to us. While we were aware of things like the domoic-acid sensitivity of California sea lions, the notion of having toxic blooms in freshwater just isn’t something that we’ve had as a possibility for personal experience before. We hope Geoff Horst has good luck in finishing up his research and finding some information that can be applied to this problem.

Luskin, Miller, Dembski… Huh?

Over at the Discovery Institute weblog, Casey Luskin has managed to channel the spirit of Emily Littella in incomplete fashion. That is, Luskin has got the parts about misconstruing a situation and blathering on in outraged fashion down pat, but he never manages to figure out that he’s on about something that just doesn’t exist outside the confusion in his head to get to the, “Oh, never mind” moment.

Luskin prattles on about how ID critic and Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller is horribly mangling concepts from William Dembski. The hurt and outrage come through clearly; Luskin is nothing if not emotive in his prose form. Then, just to make sure that everyone can see the original offense, Luskin transcribes exactly what Ken Miller said.

Guess what? There’s no reference to Dembski whatsoever. There is mention made of hands in a card game. Dembski has used card game hands as an example before, though, so maybe Luskin thinks no one else in the history of human culture can refer to hands of cards without it being an allusion to Dembski. Or whatever. Who knows? But the whole aggrieved spiel simply has no foundation.

Besides which, Dembski is actually guilty of precisely the mathematical trick that Ken Miller discusses. In section 5.10 of No Free Lunch, Dembski waves away any consideration of evolutionary pathways in originating the E. coli flagellum, then spends a number of pages developing probabilities of such a flagellum spontaneously self-assembling… now consider Luskin’s transcription of Miller’s statement in that light:

One of the mathematical tricks employed by intelligent design involves taking the present-day situation and calculating probabilities that at the present would have appeared randomly from events in the past. And the best example I can give is to sit down with 4 friends, shuffle a deck of 52 cards, and deal them out, and keep an exact record of the order in which the cards were dealt. We could then look back and say ‘my goodness, how improbable this is, we could play cards for the rest of our lives and we would never ever deal the cards out in this exact same fashion.’ And you know that’s absolutely correct. Nonetheless, you dealt them out and nonetheless you got the hand that you did.

As I see it, either Luskin can have his long-delayed Emily Littella moment and urge all of us to “never mind”, or he can ‘fess up to the fact that Dembski says one thing, but does another[*]. Or, as seems likely, Luskin can ignore it all and count on few of the ID-cheerleading audience he reaches to fire up more than a couple of synapses over the matter and there leave it.

[*] Casey and I have already argued over whether Dembski provided a specification for an E. coli flagellum. I say that ‘methinks it is like an outboard motor’ doesn’t meet the criteria Dembski sets out that, supposedly, a specification will have (look around p.72 of NFL). Casey thinks otherwise.

Update: Ken Miller’s remarks were apparently introduced in the documentary by the narrator implying that Miller was addressing Dembski, which is where Luskin took his cue to rant from. Miller has responded, pointing out that his statements in the documentary were like his statements in testimony during the KvD case, not directed to Dembski’s “specifed complexity”.

Weekly Raptor

Live, from Waverly, Iowa! Well, not really. The picture is from my birthday in 2003. I am currently in Waverly, Iowa, though.

Shelby's perch

Shelby picks a nice, high perch on a visit to a field in Santee, California.

The camera was the Fuji S2 Pro, the lens was a Nikkor 70-300mm G.

Accidental Layover in Minneapolis

I’m traveling to the Evolution and Intelligent Design Symposium in Waverly, Iowa, where I will be giving a talk, “A Eulogy for ‘Intelligent Design’ Brand Antievolution”. However, one of my flights was late, and so I get to stay overnight in a hotel near Minneapolis courtesy of my airline. I called Paul Bartelt to let him know about the change in plans. I’m afraid that my ride was probably already waiting at the Waterloo Airport for me.

Going through the security checkpoint again is enough to make me wish for on-time connecting flights…

Wednesday Plan

Diane and I are planning to drive over to Grand Rapids this afternoon. Ed Brayton will be giving a talk tonight to the Freethought Association of West Michigan.

I have a stopgap laptop provided… we are expecting Apple to announce the latest revision of their line shortly and will put in an order for a new laptop at that time. Until then, I can get acquainted with the Macintosh way of doing things with a Powerbook G4. We spent some time yesterday getting a more recent version of OS X installed and the Xcode IDE. That, and I have a copy of the development branch of Avida there for doing some mods.

Winter Ills

This Sunday, I got sick. Scratchy throat, coughing, some lung congestion… one of those viruses having a fine time at my expense. It is still going on. In the meantime, we’ve gotten a short-term apartment and moved our stuff into it while continuing to look for a place to stay for the rest of the year.