Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Lawsuit Norm Coleman Can Look Back on Losing

The Minneapolis-St.Paul Star-Tribune has the story. Norm Coleman’s lawsuit over the recount process in the Senate race with Al Franken was dismissed by Minnesota’s Supreme Court. Coleman finally took this as a sign that maybe it was time to concede, where any of the lower court rulings against his case had not.

The article mentions “gracious” being applied to Coleman’s behavior, and I’ve seen the same in comments to articles elsewhere. I can understand Franken using the word; it’s expected of politicians to emit noises that sound magnanimous when given a victory, even if privately he may think something more in line with standard human experience. But I find it utterly bewildering for anyone not Al Franken to even wander around in associative space near “gracious” to describe someone who spent months doggedly pursuing litigation and having his office issue pointed accusations of wrong-doing all around. It’s like the line from “Apocalypse Now”:

We cut ’em in half with a machine gun and give ’em a Band-Aid.

Handing out the Band-Aid counts as a legitimate meaning of “gracious” for some people.

Freeze Me, Please!

Quark Expeditions has a contest going. They are making a promotion out of sending a blogger to Antarctica on an expedition next year, and have a voting system set up so that each blogger can have people vote for their bid to go on the trip.

I found out about the whole thing a bit late, when PZ Myers on Pharyngula endorsed Grrrlscientist’s bid. So I’m in a bit of a hole at the moment in the voting. Please take a moment to go vote for my bid. You can change your vote later, if you decide to go with another blogger in the running. The voting ends September 30th, 2009.

Back around 1997, Randy Davis at Texas A&M University was putting together an Anatarctic expedition to observe the behavior of diving Weddell seals, including both physiological and bioacoustical measures of what was happening. I got an invitation to go along to assist in the research, but I had to turn that down because of my chronic ulcerative colitis. As my doctor said, though, ulcerative colitis can be cured, and my colon got removed back in 2004. (See the first messages on this blog for the gory details of going through surgery and recuperation.) So now I’m in shape where I can contemplate having an adventure, and I’d like to get the chance to find out part of what I missed due to chronic illness earlier. Please give me a hand: vote for my bid, and pass it on to people you know. And if you do, I’d be grateful to hear from you in the comments here, too.

I should point out that the contest gives the winner a two-person expedition to Antarctica. My partner for the trip is Diane J. Blackwood. Diane’s academic background is also interdisciplinary. She has a BS in zoology, another BS in electrical engineering, an MS in biomedical engineering, and a Ph.D. in wildlife and fisheries sciences. We both went through the same Ph.D. program together at Texas A&M University. Diane has a lot of research experience, from respiratory studies in infants through G-induced loss of consciousness in fighter pilots, from behavior of lekking prairie chickens and sage grouse to reaction times of whales and dolphins in hearing tests. A vote for my bid gets you, the blog reader, an additional expert perspective on the expedition.

Gearing up for Antarctica

It’s a pleasant fantasy to think about what to take along on an Antarctic expedition. One has to balance weight versus value for these sorts of trips, so the first pass will simply be to list off useful things, and later I’ll work on winnowing that down.

Computer gear:

Laptop computer, probably my Gateway MT6458 for me and the old IBM Thinkpad A30 for Diane.
External drive(s), probably one or two 1.5TB USB drives
USB card reader(s)
USB flash drive(s), have one 8GB, will likely stock up on more
Aim to have one or two USB drives pre-loaded with Ubuntu and Knoppix systems for booting and system rescue
CD set of disks for system recovery/reinstallation
GPS with waypoint logging

Screwdrivers, straight flat blade, Phillips #2, interchangeable tip with tip assortment, miniature screwdriver set
Eyeglass repair kit (2)
Needle-nose pliers
Needle-nose Vise-Grip
Forceps, curved and straight
Dikes, small and medium
C clamps (2)
Gaffer’s tape
2″ PVC pipe tape
Scotch Super-33 electrical tape
Wire-wrap tool
Wire-wrap wire
Hook-up wire, 24 gauge
15W pencil soldering iron

Camera bodies
Nikon D2Xs (digital SLR)
Fuji S2 (digital SLR)
Nikon F2 (manual film SLR)
(May want to get a full frame digital SLR for the trip)
Nikkor VR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6
Nikkor AI-S 24mm f/2.8
Micro-Nikkor AI-S 105mm f/2.8
Nikkor AI-S 50mm f/2
Sigma AF 18-200mm
(May want to add a 500mm mirror lens or other long lens)
Nikon SB-800 (2)
Wireless remote for D2Xs
Gossen Luna-Pro light meter
Compact flash cards
SD to compact flash adapters (2)
Ultrapods (2)
Nikon flash cord
Diffuser for macro work
Custom panorama head
(Need to get a travel tripod)
(More stuff to be listed)

EDO Western 6166 hydrophone (good for audio through high frequency sound)
Sonobuoy salvage hydrophones, various
Geophone (low frequency and vibration response, has suction cup)
Aiwa miniature stereo mic
Shotgun mic
Olympus WS-320M voice recorder
Archos AV320
Custom hydrophone pre-amps
Battery-powered pre-amps and amplifiers
GT-1000T Amp/monitor speaker
(Will look for flash memory data recorder before trip)

Secchi disk
(There are some simple bits of science that can be done with the above tools concerning the state of the sea surface and how the Antarctic peninsula differs from the starting point in Argentina.)

Beaked Whale Stranding in the Azores

This came across MARMAM just now.

Subject: [MARMAM] Six Beaked Whales stranded in Azores (URGENT)
From: “marc fernandez”
Date: Sat, June 27, 2009 5:47 am

Dear Colleagues,

I want to report an unusual situation occurred during the last week and a
half in São Miguel island, Azores, and ask for help in order to get some
clear conclusions.

During the last two weeks a total of *6 beaked whales stranded* on this
small island, a really unusual fact. Of these *6 two were dead and 4
stranded alive *and returned to the open sea. From the first two animals
(the dead ones) we only can get one identification and it was a Cuvier's
Beaked Whale, probably an immature male. The other four animals stranded on
a beach and they were returned to the sea immediately by the lifeguards and
the coastal guard, for these reason we don't have a lot of information, but
for the pictures they send us probably were Sowerby's Beaked Whales, we only
now that they stranded alive and probably they were immature animals also,
due to the body lenght (about 3.5 meters).

We don't have any notice about military activities in the area, but is
really difficult to get this kind of information, for this reason i want to
ask you for help to find if there is any military or seismic prospection on
the area that could affect these animals.

Thanks for your help.

All the best,

Marc Fernandez Morron
Universidade dos Açores

Marc Morron is asking about military exercises because there is a known correlation between use of mid-frequency military sonar and injury to beaked whales. If anyone has any information, please leave a comment.

Banner Change

I retired my banner that I put together in my hospital bed in 2004 and have set up a set of new banners that get picked randomly with page requests. The original aspect ratio was just too long at 8.84:1, so I shifted it to 8.84:2.

GIMP provides a selection tool for a fixed aspect ratio, which was just what I needed. Rotate, crop, scale, apply levels, unsharp mask, and I can save off another banner image. I’ll try to add more to the mix as time goes by.

Video Workflow

Over the weekend, I vacuumed out my video editing desktop machine. It’s been a while since I used it, and it had collected its fair share of dust.

The machine is based on an Asus P4B motherboard and 1.8GHz Intel P4 CPU. This was state-of-the-art when I built the system in 2002. It was built around the requirements of the Pinnacle DV 500 DVD video card. This is a very picky piece of hardware. It only works with a limited subset of motherboards and only has drivers for Windows 98/NT/2000/XP. OK, given all those requirements, what does it offer? It does analog video signal digitization as well as Firewire for DV capture. And it will provide real-time preview for various supported video transitions when paired with Adobe Premiere.

When I was putting the system together, it seemed that hard disks over 40GB were particularly prone to failure. I had gone with a 20GB boot drive and a 40GB data drive originally. A couple of years later, the rough patch in hard disk QC seemed to have passed, and I replaced the 40GB with a 120GB drive. And there the system remained from about 2005 to this past weekend.

Given that Diane and I still are slowly working off a substantial load of debt from grad school and my health issues (see earliest posts here from 2004 for the grisly details), there is now no discretionary budget for computer gear. We get what is needed when it is needed. Our purchases since 2003 include a laptop bought as a replacement under insurance, a $120 laptop bought from surplus at Diane’s college to replace her failing Dell, miscellaneous hard disks for our files, and a desktop upgrade almost completely underwritten by a generous donation from one of my readers here. We are still using daily a desktop computer bought used around 2002.

So doing anything to the video machine had to fit two constraints: I still needed to be using WinXP for the OS, and it needed to cost nothing but a bit of my time. I located two hard disks that had been replaced in other systems by higher-capacity drives, a 60GB and a 200GB drive. I used a partition cloning tool to copy over the 20GB boot disk to the 60GB. This would let me install various new software packages, including the Microsoft C# Visual Studio Express development environment, which uses 1.1GB all on its own. I cleared off the 200GB with a new NTFS format to add it as a second data disk.

Why video and why now? My time at MSU is drawing to a close, so we will be moving shortly. I have a stack of video tapes in DV, Hi-8, and VHS formats. I’ve always intended to get these digitized, and between having little working space and not having a good workflow sorted out, it hasn’t happened. It seemed to me that if I got things squared away, I could be doing a basic video digitization and archiving sequence in parallel with other activities. After all, most of the time is going to be tied up in either playing a video source for capture, or rendering captured video to an archival format.

So given the extra space and some sprucing up of the installed system, I’m ready for moving video bits around. My goal is to have the video available for non-linear editing in nearly-pristine condition. Raw DV is too large to be efficient. After asking around a bit, I’ve started with the aim of rendering to a multiplexed MPEG-2 stream as a format that is easy on storage requirements, but loses little of whatever quality there was in a DV source.

This starts with capture, which for my system comes through the Pinnacle DV 500 DVD. I’m starting with the DV tapes, as this promises to be easiest all around. Pinnacle has their DVTools package that does a fine job of capturing from a DV source. I’ve done about four tapes so far with no dropped frames at all. It does, however, continue past the last actual image from the DV source if the tape isn’t completely full.

When the capture is done, I fire up Sony Vegas and put the capture file on the timeline. It doesn’t take long to snip out various unneeded bits, including the extra stuff at the end of the capture file. If it was all related to one event, I’m ready to render that. If the capture file includes multiple events, I save the Vegas project file for the complete thing and then begin rendering each sub-section separately.

Because these are intended for further editing sometime when I have free time, I’ll just be putting these out to DVD as data. I have ImgBurn installed to handle that. There are at least three tapes in there that I will also author a video DVD for that I know of off-hand. Those will take a bit extra effort, but I’m not doing that for most of these.

Of course, suggestions are welcome. Please do remember the constraints I have, so software package suggestions should be for open source or freeware packages. I do have a laptop that dual-boots Vista and Ubuntu, plus a desktop running FreeBSD 7.2, so video processing on those systems could be done if there’s a suitable benefit.

Specified Complexity Relies Upon Implicit Design Conjectures

William Dembski’s No Free Lunch contains the following passage:

The presumption here is that if a subject S can figure out an independently given pattern to which E conforms (i.e., a detachable rejection region of probability less than alpha that includes E), then so could someone else. Indeed, the presumption is that someone else used that very same item of background knowledge — the one used by S to eliminate H — to bring about E in the first place.

[No Free Lunch, p. 75]

Because Dembski’s framework is based upon the elimination of alternative explanations, what we end up with here is the situation that Dembski is attributing the complement of the probability that can be assigned to chance hypotheses to an implicit design conjecture, the one that underlies a particular “specification”. When the “saturated” probability of the alternative is less than 1/2, Dembski says that we should prefer “design” as our causal explanation, and because we have this relationship between the specification and the putative causal story, we thus are adopting that particular causal conjecture.

Some might object that if one considers Dembski’s “Generic Chance Elimination Argument” (GCEA) to simply be in the class of statistical hypothesis tests where one may reject the null hypothesis, in this case Dembski’s definition of a “chance” hypothesis, that there is no indication that any other conjecture becomes accepted as a consequence. But Dembski’s body of argumentation excludes this interpretation, as he at every opportunity insists that having rejected “chance” hypotheses, one must thereby accept that “design” is the causal explanation for the event at issue. If we accept Dembski’s argument, it follows that we are accepting not just “design” in the abstract as a result of a successful design inference (should a non-trivial, non-fictional one ever be instantiated using the GCEA), but also the particular implicit design conjecture that underlies the “specification” used in application of Dembski’s GCEA to that event.

(Original at

Comment Upon Lynch’s Roots of ID Post

John Lynch has a post critical of the Discovery Institute’s self-serving obfuscation over the phrase “intelligent design” and its history. Lynch makes a great number of cogent criticisms, but it seems to me that the manner in which the conversation goes may still work to the DI’s benefit. I left the following comment there:

The issue isn’t whether the design argument is ancient or even whether the phrase “intelligent design” had been used somewhere, sometime prior to 1987. The issue is that “intelligent design” was first offered as referring to a field of science suitable for instruction in public schools in drafts of the supplemental textbook “Of Pandas and People”. The use of “intelligent design” to mean an alleged field of scientific inquiry was definitely seen in the draft following the SCOTUS decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

No IDC advocate has ever provided any earlier usage that showed the phrase “intelligent design” as meaning an alleged field of scientific inquiry. End of story.

Why does it matter what meaning is attached to “intelligent design”? Because the courts had already noted that science could not be excluded from classrooms to privilege sectarian religious views. The antievolution movement seized upon that as their ticket to inject their narrow sectarian views into public school classrooms by the strategem of re-labeling the ensemble of arguments as being science, the category of content already noted as approved by the courts. The first tests came when the label of “creation science” was scrutinized, and failed. The switch in label from “creation science” to “intelligent design” occurred in association with the failure of the earlier phrase. The overall strategy remained the same; all that changed was the label to be floated as if it constituted a scientific endeavor that students in public schools should be informed of.

Arguing about prior deployment of “intelligent design” as a descriptive phrase seems to me to be not pointed enough. The IDC advocates aim to sow confusion over this, and allowing them to get people arguing over descriptive uses allows them to make some progress in obfuscation. Every time they trot out the same old BS they should get a uniform reponse that they aren’t dealing with the real issue, that what “intelligent design” was supposed to mean changed significantly in 1987, and did so with the clear intent of permitting the antievolutionists to evade yet another inconvenient outcome in the courts.