Science is a work in progress. I love the fact that some of the geeks gave completely differing answers. BTW my fave symbol is Pi--especially when it comes with ice cream. Mainly because it is unlimited.
We have the good fortune in Seattle to have an institution called Town Hall Seattle, which attracts some wonderful celebrities, usually promoting books, to give talks for a very reasonable entry fee--generally five bucks. Tomorrow they are hosting famous philosopher and atheist Daniel Dennett along with George Dyson in a lecture entitled "Thinking About Thinking." Unfortunately, the event is sold out. Fortunately for me, I have an advance ticket.
Looking very much like Santa Claus, and just about as jolly, Dr. Dennett has the distinction, some would say infamy, of being one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism." The other three horsemen are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the now-deceased Christopher Hitchens--distinguished company, indeed. Dennett is the co-director of the Tufts University Center For Cognitive Studies. He is author of prominent and popular books "Breaking the Spell" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," neither of which I've read (They're on the list.). Some of his favorite topics are evolution, the evolution of religion and consciousness, and the nature of freewill. His homepage has an extensive collection of links to videos, a couple of which I have highlighted below. I'm looking forward to seeing his lecture at Town Hall and let's hope that they schedule his next appearance in the "Great Hall," as he so richly deserves, and not the smaller room downstairs, so that he can reach a larger Seattle audience. If Town Hall makes available a video of his talk, I promise to post a link for the benefit of the folks who couldn't get in.
So, congratulations to Dr. Dennett for your recognition as a Do Ya Think Blog Rational Hero--and a hearty welcome to Seattle.
A few days ago I blogged about birds-of paradise. Below is another kind. Look what evolution--and probably horticulture--has given us. Enjoy.
The Astronomy Picture of the Day Provides a nice graphic with clickable explanations about future space missions.
CSICON (Joint Conference of the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee For Skeptical Inquiry) is Coming to Tacoma Washington. Yay!
About a month ago I recognized Dr. Stephen Barrett as the Do Ya Think Blog's "Rational Hero of the Week" for his fantastic work with the Quackwatch organization. Quackwatch is a wonderful website that describes itself as "Your guide to quackery, health fraud and intelligent decisions."
Someone who self-identifies as Lindsey T. Nugent posted the following response to my blog entry:
"Judging by your Quackwatch post, you don't have a clue about either allopathic or alternative medicine. Let's start with something simple: diet. Convince me that you don't currently have the same diet as you did in college: pizza and beer."
I am honored Lindsey, that you have taken time out of what I imagine is your very busy day to deliver this personal comment. A wonderful example of of an ad hominem argument, with a possible tinge of the straw man fallacy. For those who don't know, an ad hominem is an attack of an opponent's motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain. This attack, probably motivated by pictures of me on my website that shows my considerable girth, is, of course, completely irrelevant to the fine work of Dr. Barrett. I say a "possible tinge" of straw man fallacy, which is a misrepresentation of an opponent's position--well, perhaps it's a bit of a stretch to call this a "straw man,"--but is it possible that Mr. (or Ms.?) Nugent is trying to cast aspersions on Dr. Barrett by implying that an admirer might not know what he's talking about?
I submit that even if I smoked cigarettes by the carton, guzzled fifths of cheap liquor, was completely sedentary, stuffed cocaine up my nose daily, and was a meth addict, that my personal health habits would be completely irrelevant. Furthermore, my supposed cluelessness about allopathic and (ahem) "alternative" medicine is also a red herring. Now, I suppose, I could wave around my credentials, but that would be another logical fallacy known as "argument from authority," so, I'll restrain myself.
But I'm not posting this for that reason. You Lindsey T. Nugent are the FIRST to attack this blogger. The Do Ya Think Blog, which is still in it's infancy, is only about three months old and receiving only about 50 to 150 daily hits (and growing! Thanks fans!). Alas, now I'm not a blog virgin anymore. I can't promise that other trolls will be so-recognized. But, you Lindsey are the first--and will always be so. Congratulations and I thank you.
IBM has shared with us what they describe as the "World's Smallest Stop-Motion Film." They used scanning tunneling microscopy to re-arrange groups of carbon monoxide molecules to create a video story at the atomic level. I know that I use the term "kewl" way too often in this blog, and I'm tempted to call this technology "groovy" instead. But, considering that IBM was founded in 1911, perhaps even "groovy" is too modern. So, I'm going with the "cat's pajamas," which apparently goes back at least to the 1920s. IBM is remarkable not only for its longevity, but its contribution to scientific research. IBM employees have won five Nobel prizes and created a number of notable inventions, including magnetic stripes, ATMs, UPCs, floppy drives, hard disc drives, and Watson Artificial Intelligence. Check out the IBM wiki for more info and other inventions.
The story conveyed in the video (below left) really isn't nearly as compelling as the technology. Perhaps they should have consulted with the film director Atom Egoyan? (Sorry about that.) As one You Tube commenter noted "Maybe the book was better," another commenter is hoping for "atomic porn." Hmmm.
One of the more intriguing facts, as describe in the "making of" video (below right), is that they can not only see at the atomic level, but they also can actually HEAR the molecules as they are dragged across the surface. One wonders whether their next feat will be molecular rap--or, at least, molecular scratch music. Anyhow, thanks IBM. Maybe your next invention I'll describe as the "cat's meow."
The good folks at Cornell lab of Ornithology in conjunction with National Geographic have been making some fabulous videos. From their website: "It took 8 years and 18 expeditions to New Guinea, Australia, and nearby islands, but Cornell Lab scientist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman succeeded in capturing images of all 39 species in the bird-of-paradise family for the first time ever. This video gives a sense of their monumental undertaking and the spectacular footage that resulted." There is much of interest, including some nifty videos, about these fabulous birds. Below is a favorite.
The time-tested palliative of sheep-counting for sleeplessness has a significant technical problem: it is difficult to see the sheep at night. Fortunately, a research team in Uruguay has made a major breakthrough to solve this stubborn problem. They have engineered fluorescent sheep. Sheep have now joined a list of several animals, that include mice, cats, flies, rabbits, pigs and zebrafish that have had a green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene, originally derived from a jellyfish, introduced into their genome. Insomniacs may now count sheep without turning on the light and potentially disturbing their partners.
On a more serious note, GFP has been used for several years as an important tracer in molecular biology experiments. It discoverers were awarded a Nobel prize in 2008. The original gene has been genetically modified to create a stronger signal, "enhanced" GFP, and it has even been modified to produce at least eight different fluorescent colors. I recommend the Wiki entry for GFP if you want more information on this interesting tool, that is not only very useful to molecular biologists, but ranks way-high on the kewl factor.