30 August 2006

Link Dump - Fear Politics

This is an absolutely great post about the wasteful spending various governments are doing on airline-related crappy security, when really it's just politically motivated fear-mongering. Don't Mention the Elephant in the Hand Luggage.

Followed by a post in a similar fashion from Kung Fu Monkey. Wait, Aren't You Scared?.

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29 August 2006

Portrait of King Aardvark

It's me! Photoshopped last night.

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28 August 2006


Before the fall, before eating of the tree, Adam and Eve were dumb. I should rephrase; not dumb, but they were moralless. They didn't have the knowledge of good and evil. I used to argue that they were not smart, that their dialogue and choices imply a level of intelligence of your average pre-pubescent child, but now I'm not so sure.

Reason's To Belive Ministries has a pdf about choices, and how to make better choices. Of course, in their discussion of choice, they talk a lot about the choice Eve made in the Garden of Eden.

When the serpent came to Eve and told her that, if she ate the fruit, she would not die, and instead become like God, eyes open to the knowledge of good and evil.

Christians often accuse Satan of being a liar. But pay attention here: the serpent did not lie. All he said was correct: God was lying; Adam and Eve didn't die and their eyes were opened.

Eve chose to disobey God. True. But how is she responsible without the knowledge of good and evil? At the time, she has to make a choice: who is likely to be telling the truth? Without good and evil, she has no concept of loyalty to her loving God. And it turns out, she's smarter than I typically give her credit for: she chooses correctly. Unfortunately, she's still not that smart; she forgets that God has the power to make her life miserable as punishment for disobeying him. Oh well, ce la vie.


24 August 2006

Pluto Fallout - Alan Stern

There is understandably still a lot of anger and division on the Pluto/Planet definition issue. A lot of it rightly has to do with ambiguity issues relating to the definitions. Phil Plait on Bad Astronomy has already weighed in on some of the ambiguities, namely how round is round, and what about planets hurled out of orbit of their stars. The new clause that determines Pluto's fate is that of the "cleared out their neighbourhood" variety. He misses out on some of the arguments here though, which are further explained on this MSNBC post.

The post outlines how part of the problem is that, while Pluto has other Kuiper Belt Objects in its neighbourhood, other planets, namely Jupiter, Mars, and even Earth have significant asteroids in their orbits as well. Jupiter, in particular, has the Trojan Asteroids, a partial belt of around 50000 asteroids in locked orbit. This would need to be cleared up for the definition to work. Interestingly, some studies suggest that the Trojan asteroids may be captured Kuiper Belt objects.

In it, the primary interviewees are Mike Brown, who discovered large Kuiper Belt object Xena, and Alan Stern, who is leading the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto. Their views are interesting, as both have something to lose with the new definition. Brown is for it, and thinks that it makes sense that the large Kuiper Belt objects not be classified as planets. Stern, on the other hand, engages in a lot of angry hand-waving about why the ruling is a "farce," implying that he's letting his own vested interest get the better of him:

First, note that he called it a "farce" instead of the more sensible "silly" or "flawed." He also said, "the definition stinks, for technical reasons," which is more accurate. Still emotionally charged, though.

Second, let's look at his arguments.

1) Only 424 astronomers voted. That's about 5% of all astronomers, he claimed. That may be true, but it should give a good representative sample none the less, and you can't ignore that the majority voted to demote Pluto. There's probably a reason for that. And it's certainly not a "technical reason."

2) "It's patently clear that Earth's zone is not cleared," Stern told Space.com. "Jupiter has 50,000 Trojan asteroids," which orbit in lockstep with the planet.

He's clearly angry at this, but he has a point here. But looking at the distribution of the Trojan asteroids, there is certainly a large effect that Jupiter is having on them. I don't know enough about the Earth asteroids. Another astronomer stated it more sensibly: "confusing and unfortunate" and "not at all pleased with the language about clearing the neighborhood."

Intuitively, this is the right definition. Pluto and Xena are in a field of millions of similar objects, of which they just happen to represent the dozens or hundreds that are really quite big. They are observably different from either the rocky planets or the gas giant planets. If it was only Pluto and Xena, it might make sense to denote them as planets, but it turns out that they are not so special (what with the dozens, probably hundreds of other similar-sized KBOs out there). They certainly deserve their own category (I like Plutlets), but not that of planet.

While Stern is angry about his mission being downgraded in importance in the public eye, Brown is much more enthusiastic:
"As of today I have no longer discovered a planet," he said. But Brown called the result scientifically a good decision.

"For astronomers, this doesn't matter one bit. We'll go out and do exactly what we did," Brown said. "For teaching this is a very interesting moment. I think you can describe science much better now" by explaining why Pluto was once thought to be a planet and why it isn't now. "I'm actually very excited."

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Pluto Demoted

According to the CNN Article, the International Astronomical Union has squashed the earlier proposal from its leaders to upgrade Charon, Ceres, and Xena to planets and instead decided to downgrade Pluto.

Hooray, that's the side of the fence that I'm on! I don't usually pick the winners for things such as this.

The clause they added to the definition of a planet that disqualifies Pluto is this:
"A celestial body that has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."

That is what I have been saying all along. Yes, I know it's a rather ambiguous clause, and doubtless there may be problems in the future. What happens if Mars is smacked by a large asteroid and the collision ejects a large stream of debris in Mars's orbit? Does Mars cease to be a planet until the debris is accumulated back to the remaining core?

Anyway, it's nice to have that settled.

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Good Conversion Story - Joe Holman

I just visited one of the websites of a contributer to the Debunking Christianity blog, named Joe Holman. Btw, he has a good post on the inability of Christian evangelists to answer the question: "I've tried to believe, but I just can't, so now what?". That's here. Anyway, Joe is a former minister turned atheist, and he has his own website here: Minister Turns Atheist.

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23 August 2006

The Roads in Quebec Go Round and Round...

Me and Queen Aardvark just got back from a great trip to Quebec City. If you haven't gone, go. It's like visiting Europe; city walls, narrow streets, great french and italian food (we spent entirely too much, and I ate a lot even when I wasn't hungry, just because it was so good), lots of old buildings and neat architecture. It was all good other than damaging my new digital camera.

But, as an engineer, one thing really rankled me about Quebec: the roads are crap.

Now, I'm not talking about old Quebec City; they have an excuse, in that their roads are tiny things built in the 1600s. They are allowed to be old-looking, narrow, mostly one-way, and not meet up at right angles.

But why should most of the new highways in the province be the same?

The highways in Quebec are insane. It's like they were designed by a drunk person, on top of being in generally bad states of repair.

In Ontario, we have all of our onramps and offramps on the right side of the road. Sometimes we can't do that in the middle of a big city like Toronto, so we post lots of signs far ahead so people have time to react. In Quebec, ramps come on either side haphazardly, often with only one small sign about 200m before the ramp itself. Of course, that means driving like Paul Tracy just to make your exit.

The highways are also much more complicated than they need to be. Cloverleaf structures are by nature complicated, but when Quebec does them, you'll feel like you're driving on one of those diner placemats with the childrens' mazes on them. For some reason, if you want to turn right, you will take a ramp off the left side of the road which will go under the ramp going straight and then turn right. And to turn left, you may or may not have to drive around an extra big traffic circle somehow incorporated into the cloverleaf.

Also, when you're in a big city, say, Montreal, you tend to get situations like this:
Picture a major elevated highway.
You have a large arterial road that needs to have a ramp onto the highway.
You have another large arterial road in the same neighbourhood, also needing a ramp to the highway.

So, what to do? Well, you could have two separate ramps entering the highway a slightly different locations, allowing enough time for traffic to filter in. Or you could have both arterial roads share an extra large, double lane ramp to accomodate all the traffic.

Or, you could do what Montreal does on a regular basis: have both roads share a ramp, but make the ramp only a single lane, causing a gigantic traffic backup clogging both arterial roads.

I think I know why Quebec drivers are crazy, and it's not their fault; their highways make them that way.

On the plus side, we (my wife and I are both engineers) made a pilgrimmage to see the Quebec Bridge, which is the inspiration for Iron Rings Canadian engineers wear on their pinkies.

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22 August 2006

New Carnival of the Godless Up (#47)

The newest Carnival of the Godless (#47) is up at Revolvo Inritus. I'm the last post. Check it out.

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16 August 2006

Anyone can be a planet these days...

It seems everyone is weighing in on the debate about whether Pluto and other Kuiper Belt Objects are planets or not.

CBC Story on New Planets

Ok, I've always been a Pluto detractor ever since it came to light that Pluto was just a very large Kuiper Belt object, one of about a dozen known in fact (and possibly dozens, hundreds, thousands, or millions more, we just don't know), and is actual smaller than Xena. The only reason it was a planet while the others were not was that Pluto is in the near side of the Kuiper Belt while the others are much deeper into the belt, thus it could be seen easier.

But the IAU said Pluto meets its proposed new definition of a planet: any round object larger than 800 kilometres in diameter that orbits the sun and has a mass roughly one-12,000th that of Earth. Moons and asteroids will make the grade if they meet those basic tests.

I think this is dumb. Pluto is smaller than most moons, and is part of a belt of similar objects. I just don't like that. Same goes for Ceres in the asteroid belt. However, based on the new size and gravity criteria (sphericality is key, which isn't a bad way of defining it), then they'd count, along with Xena. Fine, I can accept that large Kuiper Belt objects can be considered planets. But now they're also talking of adding Charon, a pathetic little runt of a satellite, simply because the fact that its planet is a little runt itself qualifies it as a double planet system. Actually, that's not quite right; it's worse than that. They are basing it on whether the centre-of-gravity is beneath the primary's surface or not, so simply having a satellite be far away is enough to have it called a planet. Ugh. So TWO planets instead of zero planets.

Anyway, my proposal would be the same as the IAU proposal with the following excections:
1) Double planets are not based on CoG, simply that the secondary planet is some arbitrary percentage of the primary's mass (say, 85%),
2) Any object staying within it's original debris field is not a planet (bye-bye Pluto, Charon, Xena, and Ceres)

I know this is all just semantics, and it doesn't really matter. I'm just saying, if you're going to redefine something, it's easier to remove Pluto with white-out than to add a bunch of new planets into the textbooks.

Forgive the half-baked thoughts. Just unreasonably pissed about the whole thing...

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15 August 2006

Thou Shalt Not Golf

I hate contemporary Christian music. At church last week, the band sang a couple of new songs (a rare occurrence, but it was also a new band). One of the songs included a line about how God "has told every lightning bolt where it should go."

God controls every bolt of lightning?!!! WTF!

Now, I know this is only a song, and it's not taken from the bible itself or anything the pastor said that day (in the bible, God only explicitly controls lightning on occasion); however, the pastor didn't veto that line in the song, so I assume that he doesn't have a problem with it. With that view in mind, I consider that line to be fair game.

And fair game it is. Whoa-boy, that's a doozy of a thing to accuse God of doing.

Lightning strikes kill an average of 73 people a year in the US, and injure hundreds more.

Check out the National Geographic article linked above. It's scary: if God controls every single lightning bolt, he's killing a lot of people, mainly those who enjoy outdoor sports, like golf, hiking, and camping.

So why the vendetta against golfers?

Well, it turns out that God may not be controlling where lightning strikes after all. You see, though incomplete, the science of lightning is rather well understood. Lightning is a mechanism for the quick equalization of electrical charge between the atmosphere and the ground. As such, the electricity requires a path, favouring one that offers the least resistance. Solid objects, like steel poles, trees, and even people offer less resistance to electrical current than air. Consider this quote from the National Geographic interview with Vladimir Rakov, an electrical engineer and lightning expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville:

As for the question as to whether or not lightning can strike the same place twice, Rakov says that the answer depends on what kind of place that is.

Statistically, he said, during cloud-to-ground lightning, the channel of discharge is merely looking for a place on the ground, which is a random act assuming the ground is flat and geologically uniform.

For example, Rakov says that one square meter of terrain in a flat Florida field gets hit by lightning once every 100 millennia, thus if that area gets hit, it would not be hit for another 1,000 human generations, which he considers in all practical purposes to be never.

The reality, however, is that the ground is not uniform and lightning is attracted to certain ground features and not to others. "From a lightning point of view, yes, it does strike the same place many times, particularly if it is a tall structure," said Rakov.
So this leads to a rather startling conclusion:

God doesn't control where lightning strikes; WE DO.

Or rather, while still being dangerous and chaotic, we can influence where lightning strikes due to our understanding of how lightning operates. Benjamin Franklin was the first to figure this out. Noting that you can influence lightning so that it will tend to strike a tall metal object more than a surrounding low area, he invented the lightning rod. Along those same lines, the CN Tower, 553 m (1815 ft) high in the heart of Toronto, is struck by lightning a stupefying 75 times a year!

(Photo source)

So God has no vendetta against golfers. Holding a metal club in the air, a golfer runs the risk of providing the lowest-resistance path for electrical current in a storm.

I never figured that God, who controls every lightning strike, would choose to give up control so easily.

This is just one example of the God of the Gaps receding in the face of scientific inquiry. By treating the world as rational, by hypothesizing, experimenting, and coming up with theories that fit observations, humanity has eliminated the superstition associated with nature and replaced it with understanding (at least for the segment of the population that chooses to embrace a rational and impartial world). This understanding saves more lives than any prayer for safety in a storm ever could.

The idea that we don't know anything about lightning strikes reeks of an anti-naturalistic world view: a view rooted in the Dark Ages that embraces mysticism and fear. It makes me sad that so many religious people have such a low opinion of human knowledge that they are stuck in the stone age: "Remember kids, rain is God crying, wind is God exhaling (a foul wind is God farting), and if you're bad, God may hit you with a lightning bolt!"

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14 August 2006

Hosting is Hard Work

Take great care and know what you are getting into when you host a party for a lot of people.

This past Sunday, my wife, my dad, and I hosted a bbq for my wife's entire family. About 30 people showed up. We had burgers, chicken teriyaki, souvlaki, shrimp skewers, and bbq pork tenderloin, plus veggies, watermelon, fruit salad, and drinks. I was cutting/preparing meat for about 3 hours Saturday night, plus preparing other foods all Sunday morning. My dad spent several hours Saturday and Sunday cleaning his house and pool. My wife cut all the watermelon and onions and stuff while doing a great job with washing dishes. We also cleaned up ant infestations in my dad's place, since he has problems with that. I was exhausted. My wife hardly got any time to talk to her family at all.

Anyway, I can certainly see why people of more lavish financial means prefer to get their parties catered. This is far too much work. Remind me not to do this again for a while.


Link Dump

Leading scientists still reject God Article with Table showing how the higher-ranked scientists tend more towards atheism.

A Dead Dog Lives On (Inside New Dogs) Loom article about a dog cancer than now travels like a parasite.

Ricky Gervais Explains Genesis Video

YouTube Video of Atheists Video

CelebAtheists Website listing famous atheists (and proof that they are).

Church of the FSM in Legos!!! Self-explanatory.

Daily Show Clip Video, I'm not sure what it's about, but PZ and Kung Fu Monkey liked it.

Using Creationist sources to debunk Creationists Website debunking several Xtian arguments by using other Xtian talking points.

Mocks bible-thumpers by arguing from Dr. Suess quotations Article shows the stupidity of arguing from the bible.

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11 August 2006

I am Cynical. I knew that already...

You Are 72% Cynical

You're a full blown cynic... and probably even skeptical of these results.
You have your optimistic moments, but most likely you keep them to yourself.


Blogroll Organizing

Ok, I got fed up with the unsorted blogroll, so I recinding my earlier policy of not separating the atheist from the scientist.

I've also added a couple new ones, namely Daily Dose of Doubt and Revolvo Inritus.


09 August 2006

The Atheist Test

I just took the Atheist Test, and it was only so-so. Some of the questions were rather thin on thought, and portrayed atheists as selfish psychopaths. There were often no atheist responses that cared for your fellow human beings. Plus I was disappointed with my score. I'm much more atheistic than 75%.
The Ardent Atheist
The results are in, and it appears that you have scored 75%...
You are an atheist, pure and simple. You think God is just one big lie, and consider religious people to be both annoying and beneath you. Ardent atheists will argue tooth and claw for their position, and have no truck with people that won't listen. You think being an atheist is the only way to lead an honest life, and see no reason to accept the pleas of faith. Ardent atheists are the backbone of atheism. Be proud.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 73% on pentagrams
Link: The Atheist Test written by chi_the_cynic on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

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Sloganizer in the Nuts

I tried Sloganizer just a while ago, after seeing several other bloggers use it. Now, I noticed the message that the Sloganizer often does not handle long sentences well, and that was true. My first couple of attempts were way off the mark. But trial #4 was exactly what I was looking for:

"Start the day with King Aardvark's Kick in the Nuts."



08 August 2006

Carl Zimmer's Gone PZ!

I wrote a week back or so about my brother and his recent entry into the world of science blogs, particularly about reading Carl Zimmer's Loom, PZ Myers's Pharyngula, Tara Smith's Aetiology, and other science-based blog items listen on my blogroll.

I also talked about my brother's intense hatred of fundies in particular and religious people in general, and in order to curb violent feelings on his part, I would try to keep him to pure science stuff and away from anti-creationism stuff by encouraging him to read the Loom but not Pharyngula.

Turns out that's not good enough.

Carl Zimmer has just posted a little rant about his brush with Institute for Creation Research AM radio bullshit. For those unaware, ICR is a YEC organization that lies about science with every sentence they speak.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before Carl attacked creationists head-on. Science education is such an important institution in the world, and its sad state in the US in particular requires every possible scientific voice to speak out for it. Carl Zimmer is a great writer and I'm glad he's actively weighing in.

So maybe it's time for my brother to get involved; I should tell him to read PZ, Debunking Christianity, Daylight Athiesm, and Carnival of the Godless. He might get very fed up and stop reading anymore of it, but hopefully he won't get too angry.

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New Carnival of the Godless Up (#46)

The newest Carnival of the Godless (#46) is up at Love @nd Rage. I had two posts this week, the second due to the unfortunate events in Lebanon that I felt I had to comment on. Check it out.

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04 August 2006

I am Geordi LaForge...

Apparently, I'm Geordi. I think I would have guessed that without the quiz.

Your results:
You are Geordi LaForge

Geordi LaForge
Will Riker
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Jean-Luc Picard
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Beverly Crusher
Deanna Troi
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Mr. Scott
Mr. Sulu

You work well with others and often
fix problems quickly. Your romantic
relationships are often bungled.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz


Dawkins Would Be Pissed ... or Not

I just took a detailed visited the local public library for the first time.

Richard Dawkins would be pissed: Right next to his book River out of Eden is Darwin's Black Box, by Michael Behe.

Behe: Well, well, what do we have here?
Dawkins: A little too close for comfort, eh loser boy?
Behe: Bring it on, chump!
Dawkins: I'm gonna kick you in the nuts!
Behe: Owww! (slumps to the ground)

Or maybe not. Dawkins might be happy that his book is there next to Behe's. I doubt a person perusing the biology section for fun would be persuaded by Behe's arguments, though they might find themselves with a wasted weekend after discovering that the interesting, controversial book they picked up was complete rubbish. Meanwhile, an evangelist sympathizer who normally reads faith-based books would have to go to the biology section and see how greatly outnumbered Behe's book was compared to the real evolution books.

In fact, with the word Eden in the title, it might entice a religious reader to pick up both books, figuring they are complementary (they are next to each other, after all). Who better to counter fundamentalist arguments than Dawkins? Though, content-wise, The Blind Watchmaker or Climbing Mount Improbable would be far better than River out of Eden as Behe's neighbour; either more directly delivers kicks in the nuts to the irreducible complexity argument.

Anyway, I'll be going back there soon. They have the Carl Zimmer book Parasite Rex that I want to read (but alas, no At the Water's Edge). For a book that interesting, I'd prefer to buy it, but I haven't been able to find it around, and I don't like buying things online. They also have plenty of the older Stephen Jay Gould books that I'd like to see.

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03 August 2006

The Ancestor's Tale - Book Review

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life
- Richard Dawkins (2004)

(5/5 Aardvarks)

Ratings explained at
King Aardvark's Library

"If you were to read only one biology book ever, this should be it." - King Aardvark

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2004) by Richard Dawkins is a remarkable book. The book's premise is, starting with humans, to go back in time to rendezvous with the most recent common ancestor, which Dawkins terms a "concestor" (boy, this guy sure likes making up words), of us and another group of still living organisms. (For instance, in the distant past, one of these meetings is between all the mammals, including us humans, and the group of birds and lizards. We never meet dinosaurs; they are extinct, so they don't count, but they are represented by their surviving family members, the birds.) The book is designed to emulate the format of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, where pilgrims meet on the way to their destination and tell tales.

The overarching story is that of time-traveling discovery: who, rather than what, is around the next corner? Dawkins traces the evolutionary branchings of life, taken from a well-justified anthropocentric position (as humans, we're tracing our own geneology), giving approximate dates where possible and explaining the importance of each set of organisms.

Frequently, when each set of organisms join, a joining species will tell a tale. Each tale is a stand-alone essay that uses something relevant to the particular species to explain something truly important about evolutionary biology. Sometimes it's about a speciation mechanism, like sympatric or allopatric speciation; sometime it's about organisms rafting to islands and miniaturizing; sometimes it's about techniques used by evolutionary biologists, like molecular clocks, dendrochronology, etc; sometimes it's about convergent evolution, or hypotheses into the development of the brain, or Dawkins's own favourite topic, selfish genes. These tales provide a feast of biological tidbits and are the true masterpieces of this book.

This is truly a magnificent book. I felt like I was actually traveling backward through time, and sharing in the monumental discoveries of past biology, until, finally, a rapid-fire crescendo of sponges, plants, the Great Rendezvous of the first eukaryote, bacteria, then the cathartic climax of reaching our evolutionary Canterbury: the mysterious beginnings of life. On this, Dawkins wisely leaves it to conjecture; it could be RNA world or it could be other things we haven't even thought of yet.

It is well-written, fast paced, comes in easily-digestible morsels, and full of cutting-edge science, all easily accessable to the layman. Dawkins comes across as delightfully inquisitive and genuine. One of the most admirable things I noticed about The Ancestor's Tale is how freely Dawkins would admit that there remain things yet unknown. For instance, in many cases, he points out a disagreement between scientists about where certain animal groups branch, then explains why he chose one scheme over another, and that future data could cause our understanding of these relationships to change. He even has a couple of places where the order of meeting concestors is still up in the air. He never gives the impression that he is all-knowing or infallable, and I felt respected as a reader because of this.

I was disappointed, however, with the bias toward animals shown by Dawkins. The section on fungi is brief; plants, arguably the most important organisms, are treated only slightly better. Archaea are almost entirely avoided. The early interplay of genes between the primitive Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya is merely skimmed over. There is hardly any discussion about the status of viruses or prions to speak of.

One minor complaint is that the essays about the biology topics are linked to a particular organism that exhibits the topic the best. While this is logical, it also results in problems where vitally important topics are not discussed early enough. For example, the essay on dating historical artifacts, fossils, and geological formations is told during the Redwood's Tale, notably because these large old trees can help us date organisms via dendrochronology. Dating of other types are discussed, too, including paleomagnetic and radiometric dating. Understanding how these dating methods work is essential for building the trust of those skeptical of science. How many times have I heard the "you use the rocks to date the fossils, but you use the fossils to date the rocks" argument? Unfortunately, Redwoods are plants, and plants separated from animals so far in the distant past that this tale is not told until page 526 out of 629 pages (in my version).

Speaking of versions, the one I read has the cover shown at the top of this post. It is a thick paperback that benefits from having four sections of full-colour plates, for a total of 50 photographs. This is the British/Canadian paperback version. The Ancestor's Tale was originally published in a very hefty hardcover version (Below Left) that many have criticised as an unsuccessful coffee-table book. The American version, both hardcover and paperback, (Below Right), subtitled A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, is inferior to the British version since it lacks the colour photos. All in all, I think my version is the best ;-)

Dawkins occassionaly leaves science to the side to wage a campaign against the current Bush administration in Washington. I agree with his rants in this case, but worry that when Bush is no longer in power (Hallelujah!) the book will seem dated.

He also plugs his other books repeatedly, especially The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable. At times, his views can seem overly reductionist (genes as the only unit of selection, etc.) but I found that he was quite well balanced in this book, preferring to let his previous works speak for him on this matter.

Dawkins brings up much-maligned German biologist Ernst Haeckel on several occasions in this book, all in a positive light, mostly about his beautiful biological drawings and his insight into the relationship between hippos and elephants. I suspect that Dawkins is intentionally doing this to irritate proponents of the ID/Creationism camp that love to use Haeckel's embryo drawings as an argument against evolution. ("Hey! you stupid creationists! Not only are Haeckel's embryo drawings still relevant, but we LOVE Ernsty!")

And speaking of Creationists, Dawkins does get in a few jabs here and there. Given his militant atheist view, it was astounding that he kept the anti-theism in this book to a minimum, anly allowing it to rear its head at the books conclusion:
'Pilgrimage' implies piety and reverence. I have not had occasion here to mention my impatience with traditional piety, and my disdain for reverence where the object is anything supernatural.... My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world.
In the final verdict, I have to say this is the best overall book for explaining evolution to non-biologists. It's not perfect, but its scope and power make it more than deserving of 5 aardvarks. As Dawkins deservedly gloats:
It is not pride in my book but reverence for life itself that encourages me to say, if you want a justification for the latter, open the former anywhere, at random.
If you were to read only one biology book ever, this should be it. Go out and buy it, and tell your friends.

Duration: About 4.5 weeks.

Read about it on Wikipedia.

Return to King Aardvark's Library

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02 August 2006

Squeaky-Clean Teeth!

I just had my teeth cleaned at a dentist's office for the first time in about 7 years. Holy SHIT, do they feel clean. I can feel every single tooth in all its own slippery-smooth glory.

I have pretty good oral hygiene, so even after all this time, my teeth and gums are healthy with no cavities. The hygienist was mildly impressed. Even so, I had significant scaling that needed some serious action to clear off. They use an ultrasonic scaler these days to remove most of the plaque. It doesn't hurt, but it can be a little uncomfortable when they jam it under your gums.

Dentists' offices have changed greatly since I last visited one. This one in particular is really high-tech. Apart from all the LCD TVs in every procedural room (to amuse the patients before and even during the procedures) and the GameCube in the waiting room (alas, just for the wee tykes; the game was Winnie the Pooh), there were computers everywhere, all linked via network. Any X-rays taken were stored digitally and easily accessed by any staff member or even emailed to specialists in other offices. Specialized software keeps track of every tooth, and can add notations to the teeth and automatically enhance the X-rays. Any observations were also recorded electronically. All this went into the file they kept with a picture of you and you dental insurance information.

And speaking of that, I heartily recommend that, when you get dental insurance with your job, you use it as much as possible. Before, I never had dental insurance, so I never went to the dentist. My teeth are much healthier now.


01 August 2006

Depressed about Society

I recently turned my brother onto the whole science blogging community. He's at school now doing a master's in mechanical engineering, and he's really bored right now with nothing to do because of thick layers of bureaucracy and a lazy thesis supervisor. So he's reading a lot now.

I turned him on to TalkOrigins, Pharyngula, The Loom, Respectful Insolence, and Aetiology (all on my blogroll), though I didn't give him the worst of the hardcore skepticism and atheism stuff, figure he only asked me for science stuff to read.

Anyway, there's seems to be enough politcally and skeptically charged stuff in those blogs to make him angry and pessimistic:

Y'know, reading these blogs has made me very depressed about the state of society today. Especially the guy who was denying that germs make you sick.
Based on that, I'd assume he's been reading Aetiology, where Dr. Tara smacks down a loonie.

In fact, I may not want to get him onto the atheism pages. It'll be too dangerous for society. I told him that I got involved in all this stuff because of an incident with a pastor who argued with me about science, and claimed the moondust argument. My brother's response?

If I were ever arguing with a Young Earth Creationist, I'm sure I'd go postal on him. I have rage issues.
Anyway, he says I'm a nerd (true, but he's an even greater nerd, or as my wife likes to call him, "head nerd"). For the time being, to avoid death and mayhem as he rages against fundies and alties, I'm going to recommend he stick to reading the well-written and less-inflammatory Carl Zimmer.

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