Monthly Archives: April 2010

“A Special Kind of Air Patrol”

My parents send me interesting articles from my hometown paper, the Lakeland Ledger. One of the latest of these I got was an article by Eric Pera titled, A Special Kind of Air Patrol. It is about Polk county farmers employing American Bird Abatement Service (ABAS) to keep crops like blueberries safe from depredation by flocks of cedar waxwings and other birds. Their method? Fly falcons over the fields during the daytime. Check out the article; it has some nice pictures of the Aplomado falcons used by ABAS.

While reading the article I realized that I had a personal connection in the story: Jim Nelson, co-owner of ABAS, was quoted in there. Jim is a friend of Diane and I from back when we were living in eastern Washington state. Jim is an avid longwinger who nonetheless took time to help us train our then-new Harris’ hawk, Rusty. Rusty surprised Jim by showing enthusiasm for hunting upland birds and ducks. (Rusty also surprised him in having an absolute unwillingness to be or remain hooded.) We wish Jim and his colleagues all the best with the ABAS venture.

In the article, it says that ABAS’s “services aren’t cheap, costing as much as $600 a day for one falconer and up to four birds”. Well, I don’t know how one defines cheap here. It is likely that the falconer gets half or less of the day’s charge, so they are specialists with federal/state permits probably working for less than $40/hour. The other half would have to cover the costs of breeding, training, and maintaining the falcons. That is a not-inconsiderable expense in terms of materials and labor itself. There are travel costs and the costs of radio-telemetry for each falcon. Figure in also that ABAS likely does not have a full year-round schedule, so the days that do get paid have to cover the parts of the year that don’t. If the farmer gets about $2/pint of blueberries, and needs about a week’s protection to get the crop harvested, he comes out ahead if the falcons save him over 2,100 pints of blueberries.

True Things About Evolution

I was looking for a particular post of mine, and ran across this one from back in 1999. “The Patterson Challenge” refers to a lecture given by Colin Patterson in which he asked his audience a question. This incident has become a favorite quote of antievolutionists.

I’ve been putting a simple question to various people and groups of people. Question is: Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, “I do know one thing — it ought not to be taught in high school”.

So when it popped up again in a forum I was participating in, I took the opportunity to answer the original question.

True things about evolutionary theory
Wesley R. Elsberry (
Tue, 9 Nov 1999 11:26:29 -0600 (CST)

Art Chadwick writes:

AC>Those are fancy (and oft repeated) words. Let me issue you
AC>the Patterson challenge: tell us one thing you know for
AC>sure about the theory of evolution…other than that “it
AC>shouldn’t be taught to high school students”

Patterson’s challenge was broader, asking whether anyone knew any one thing about “evolution” to be true.

Let’s see… true things about evolution. That would make an overlong list. I’ll just give some of my favorites.

– Inheritance is particulate, not blending.

– Inheritance is not perfect. Changes can and do happen in heritable information.

– More organisms are produced than can be sustained under prevailing ecological conditions.

– Those heritable variations which correlate with differential survival of organisms tend to have higher proportional representation in the population.

– The distribution of traits in a population can be influenced by chance effects, such as population bottlenecks and sampling from a limited pool of variant.

– Fossils are the traces of organisms that were once alive.

– Fossil forms show that extinction of species happens. Certain fossils represent organisms common enough, large enough, and distributed in areas where if they were present through the present day could not have been overlooked.

– Fossils are distributed in a stratigraphic pattern indicating change in fossil assemblages over time.

– Fossil assemblages show that mass extinctions have happened at widely different times in the earth’s history.

– The canonical genetic code is consistent with the theory of common descent.

– Patterns of differences in sequences of proteins and heritable information support the idea that these differences have accrued since the time of a last common ancestor.

– Evolutionary interrelationships have been used to advantage in medical research.

– The principles of natural selection have been used to advantage in computational optimization and search.

– Species have been observed to form, both in the laboratory and in the wild.

– A novel symbiotic association has been observed in the laboratory.

Well, that should get us started, anyway.


Nationals of the National Ocean Science Bowl

The Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s National Ocean Science Bowl is holding its national competition this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida at the USF/St. Pete campus and FWRI. There is round robin competition on Saturday, then the finals will use a double-elimination tournament schedule that finishes up on Sunday.

I’m signed up as a moderator in one of the rooms on Saturday. I really enjoyed volunteering for the regional tournament, and I am looking forward to tomorrow’s competition.

CoverFlorida Health Care

Last year, the CoverFlorida Health Care program got started. This is essentially group insurance for the Florida uninsured pool, organized by (but not paid for by) the state of Florida. Governor Charlie Crist says the following on the CoverFlorida website:

During the 2008 legislative session, my administration worked with legislators of both parties to secure unanimous approval of the Cover Florida Health Care Access Program. This legislation makes affordable health coverage available to 3.8 million uninsured Floridians through a comprehensive market-based strategy.

3.8 million uninsured Floridians. That’s a lot.

It has been a little over a year now, so maybe we can start to see a shift in the demographic. How many eligible people actually have signed up for coverage under CoverFlorida’s plans? According to a PDF summarizing enrollment through January, 2010, that would be 5,426 people. That works out to about 0.14% of the eligible pool who have taken the plunge. At that rate, 3.8 million people may have signed up for this health care somewhere around the year 2709. That does appear to be viewing the problem as solving itself in Lord Keynes’ long run.

New ISP for Us: Verizon FIOS

We got our new ISP activated on Saturday, and we had selected Verizon FIOS. On a dollars per bandwidth unit basis, it was by far the most effective way to spend the money. The choices where we are were Verizon DSL, Bright House cable, and Verizon FIOS.

I had priced the DSL a couple of months ago, and Verizon was offering 1 Mbps for $19.99/month and 1.5 Mbps for $29.99/month. We were considering the 1 Mbps DSL service simply on the cheapskate basis. However, when I checked again last week, the prices had been sharply changed upward. The 1 Mbps was $29.99/month, and the 1.5 Mbps was $39.99/month. I happened to have a chat session going with a Verizon representative, and part of it went something like this:

Me: So what additional value has been added to the DSL options to make them worth $10 more a month now than back in January?

[2 minute pause]

Verizon Rep: I’m sorry, I don’t have any information available about that.

Me: Good answer.

While we didn’t really want to reward Verizon for the predatory pricing structure they’ve created on DSL, the bandwidth available with Verizon FIOS was just too tempting. The FIOS Internet service starts at 15 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream at $54.95/month. It’s more than we wanted to be budgeting for our internet, but we really do use it.

A Verizon service person called last Thursday to discuss access to our driveway. It’s a mere 663′ long. His job was to get the fiber optic cable laid down to the house. We found out that they had to put in a splice; they’ve marked that patch of ground with flags and recommended that we don’t plan to extend our driveway over that spot. I had informed them about the long driveway in the chat session, and they get their fiber optic cable in 1000′ lengths, so they should have had plenty to manage to get there without a splice.

The actual install went fairly smoothly. Verizon says installation may take between four and eight hours, but our install was done in about three.

I did a Speakeasy bandwidth test, and the gear delivered a bit more than advertised, so that’s to the good. We’ve been using Bright House cable to access the internet since last August, and we’ve had a variety of annoying lapses in what we’ve been able to do. For instance, we use email on a server located in Texas. We have not been able to send email through that server for several months. That has now been remedied.

The next step is to get our home internal network set up again. Right now, FIOS does look like it will help us get done the things we need done on the internet.

Update: OK, I found a slightly annoying thing here: poor DNS resolution. Apparently, the FIOS router defaults to a set of not-so-hot nameservers. Fortunately, I can specify better ones on my individual computers. See this page for an explication of the problem and the fix.