Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New steps toward quantum gravity:
Despite the success of general relativity, one of the most important problems in modern physics is finding a theory of quantum gravity that reconciles the continuous nature of gravitational fields with the inherent 'graininess' of quantum mechanics. Recently, Petr Hořava at Lawrence Berkeley Lab proposed such a model for quantum gravity that has received widespread interest, in no small part because it is one of the few models that could be experimentally tested. In Hořava's model, Lorentz symmetry, which says that physics is the same regardless of the reference frame, is violated at small distance scales, but remerges over longer distance scales
Hitch probably says it best:
It was almost as if he had decided to atone, first for the death of Mary-Jo Kopechne and second for his hubris in trying to emulate the ambition of his older brothers.

Tastes differ but many of his admirers were secretly relieved when the Senator stopped trying to deliver epoch-making speeches like the famous but rather ham-like "The Dream Will Never Die" effort that constituted his last hurrah at the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980.

His chaotic interview with Roger Mudd that same year, in which he could not produce a single coherent reason for seeking the White House, was also helpful in getting him to adopt a more realistic view of himself, and to become a more useful public servant.

You may notice that I have managed to get this far without once using the word "lion". This is on purpose. Senator Edward Moore Kennedy was not particularly leonine, even though he did have a bit of a mane until the very end. He was more like a horse, and it is for his slow and steady work and his willingness to work in harness with others that he will be best remembered.

One thing is going to become painfully obvious I think over the next year or so, and that is how pale a shadow John Kerry has been in the Senate all this time, and how little likely he is to come even close to the accomplishments of Ted any time in the future.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mark Chu-Carroll on the latest bit of intellectual dishonesty from Bill Dembski:
As for intelligent design? There's really nothing in this paper about it. I'm [sure] Dembski will run around bragging about how he got an ID paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. But arguing that this is an ID paper is really dishonest, because all ID-related content was stripped out. In other places, Dembski has used these quantification-based arguments to claim that evolution can't possibl[y] work. But this paper contains none of that. It's just a fairly drab paper about how to quantify the amount of information in a search algorithm.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I like Pogue's approach to Twitter.

Going to have to come up with my own....
The Cartoons that Shook the World (but didn't even make it into the book).

Hitchens rips Yale University Press for losing its nerve.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Looks like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's trade division is off the block...for now.

Education Media & Publishing Group, the educational publisher formed by Barry O'Callaghan's leveraged buy-outs of Boston-based Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, has agreed a refinancing which will lower its debt load and interest bills but heavily dilute equity holders, reports the FT. The refinancing had averted any risk of a Chapter 11 filing, the newspaper adds.

The newspaper also reports that HMH has decided against a renewed attempt to sell its consumer book arm, hoping to use the small division to bolster its core educational publishing business.

The finance agreement will cut EMPG's long-term debt, now standing at about $7.6bn, by more than $1bn and reduce annual interest costs by $100m, in exchange for a 45% dilution of current shareholders.

I'm sure the shareholders are thrilled.

John Wilkins is on a roll with yet two more new papers up for review. Check them out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kevin Whelan at Pundit Review writes:
Me and the guys from Blue Mass Group, Massachusetts leading liberal blog, are putting our petty political differences aside to try and raise money for the Jared C. Monti Scholarship Fund. Jared was KIA in Afghanistan in 2006 and recently became only the 6th person since 2001 to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

We are trying to rally bloggers from all sides to the cause. Jared fought and died for all Americans, and supporting his scholarship fund seems like the least we can do in return.
Here's the link to contribute if you'd like to donate to a worthy cause in the name of a fellow American who gave his life in service of his country.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We're learning more about Shakespeare's rivals in the Elizabethan Theatre:
Before 1594, the kaleidoscope of acting companies was becoming impossible for the City authorities to control. Then deals were done, and for six years, from about 1594 to 1600, a monopoly – or duopoly – was granted to two companies only, the Admiral’s and the Chamberlain’s. The Chamberlain’s (the King’s Men) had Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon as patron, and Shakespeare as writer. The patrons of the Admiral’s Men were Charles Howard and later Prince Henry, then Lord Palsgrave, Earl Palatine. Only in the late 1590s was the duopoly encroached on by the companies of three earls – Worcester, Oxford and Derby – and by the Paul’s Boys and Blackfriars Boys. There were five competitors by 1602; but even then the duopoly companies continued to dominate.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Galaxies embrace

What's intriguing about scriptwriter Richard Farrell is that there sure looks to be a family resemblance.
Today on the Morning Media Menu, journalist, author, and screenwriter Richard Farrell gave advice for aspiring screenwriters and memoir writers.

Farrell recently publisher his heroin memoir "What's Left of Us," and helped write The Fighter--an upcoming film starring Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. Among all screenwriting guides, Farrell recommended the writing handbook by Christopher Vogler, "The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers."

I'll have to buddy it up with this guy...
Sometimes miracles happen in the lab....
In order to get on of our pigments, we need to synthesise a piece of DNA. A very large piece of DNA, that would normally cost around £3000 to get synthesised, effectively blowing our synthesis budget for this project. I've been spending most of last week agonising about how much of the actual gene we wanted to synthesise, I didn't want to cut too much out, in case it stopped working.

I got an email from my supervisor last night: DNA2.0 have agreed to synthesise is for us.

For free.

It's the little things in life....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Larry Moran discusses Carl Zimmer's latest piece for Science on the origin of eukaryotes:
This is well-timed since it appears just when I've returned from a meeting on this very topic. [Go here if you can't see the article on the Science website.]

One of the things we learned at the meeting is that the Woose tree of life is almost certainly an over-simplification at best and wrong at worst. It is no longer possible to claim that eukaryotes have a simple vertical descent relationship with any archaebacterium (or any bacterium, for that matter).

Instead, the early history of life is characterized by a web or a net involving multiple gene exchanges between all primitive species. After some time, the major divisions of life emerged from this "soup" and became separate lineages with an semi-independent history. This view dates back ten years or so and it's illustrated by a figure that Ford Doolittle published in the February 2000 issue of Scientific American. I've used this figure several times. Here it is again so you can see how it relates to Carl's article.

In the case of eukaryotes, the history is complicated by an endosymbiotic event where a proteobacterium was engulfed and evolved into mitochondria. That explains many of the eukaryotic genes with a clear bacterial origin. Those genes, can be reliably traced to a particular lineage of proteobacteria. What this shows is that by the time of the endosymbiosis most of the main lineages of prokaryotes had emerged from the soup and become fairly well-defined.

This doesn't explain the origins of the host cell. That cell presumably had some of the features of modern eukaryotes. Where did it come from? Was it part of an ancient lineage that formed during the gene exchange period of evolution suggesting that some eukaryotic features are ancient? Was it formed by a fusion between a primitive bacterial cell and a primitive archaebacterium? (Or, did archaebacterial arise from a fusion of a primitive eukaryotic cell and a primitive bacterium?)
"Google waits in watch of dishonesty..."

I don't read the Huffington Post, but Barrett Brown's takedown of William Dembski is one of the best:

* In conjunction with his friends at the pro-ID Discovery Institute, Dembski decided to commission a Flash animation ridiculing Judge John Jones, the Bush-appointed churchgoer who, despite being a Bush-appointed churchgoer, ruled in the 2005 Dover Trial (known more formerly as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and even more formally as something longer and more formal) that intelligent design could not be taught in public school science classes. The animation consisted of Judge Jones represented as a puppet with his strings being held by various proponents of evolution; aside from being depicted as unusually flatulent, poor Judge Jones was also shown to be reading aloud from his court opinion in a high-pitched voice (Dembski's, it turned out, but sped up to make it sound sillier). The point of all of this, as The Discovery Institute explained, was that Jones had supposedly cribbed some 90 percent of his decision from findings presented by the ACLU, and that this was a very unusual and terrible thing for Jones to have done. On the contrary, judges commonly incorporate the findings of the winning party into their final opinion, either in whole or in part, and Jones' own written opinion actually incorporated far less than 90 percent of the findings in question. For his part, Dembski agreed to reduce the number of fart noises in the animation if Jones would agree to contribute his own voice. Jones does not appear to have accepted the offer.

* One of Dembski's hand-picked blog co-moderators, Dave Springer, once received an e-mail to the effect that the ACLU was about to sue the Marine Corps in order to stop Marines from praying; outraged, Springer posted it on his blog in order that his readers could join him in being affronted. After all, the e-mail had told him to. "Please send this to people you know so everyone will know how stupid the ACLU is Getting [sic] in trying to remove GOD from everything and every place in America," the bright-red text exhorted, above pictures of praying Marines. "Right on!" Dembski added in the comments. It was then pointed out by other readers that the e-mail was a three-year-old hoax; the ACLU spokesperson named therein did not actually exist, and neither did the ACLU's complaint. Springer was unfazed by the revelation. "To everyone who's pointed out that the ACLU story is a fabrication according to -- that's hardly the point," he explained. "The pictures of Marines praying are real." Dembski himself had no further comment.

* Dembski has spent much time and energy pointing out that Charles Darwin made several racist statements back in the 19th century, even going so far as to call for a boycott of the British ten-pound note due to Darwin's picture being displayed thereupon. Incidentally, Dembski has spent most of the past decade working at universities within the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in the 19th century for the sole purpose of defending slavery.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dan Rayburn says things will get worse before they get better for CDNs.

With Limelight reporting earnings last night, it's now clear that the major players in the CDN space, the vendors that control the vast majority of the market share for video delivery, are all experiencing no growth. Akamai's M&E business was down and Limelight, Internap and Level 3 all reported no revenue growth for their CDN business. And with Q3 typically being a weak quarter for the CDNs and some of them setting guidance that shows no growth over Q2, we may have yet to see the bottom.

While Limelight was very optimistic that they will see growth in the second half of this year and that the CDN market as a whole will pick up, I'm not so sure that industry wide, that's going to happen in the next two quarters. While pricing still took a decline last quarter, I see the bigger impact being that traffic growth with current customer is no where near the levels it once was and many smaller content owners continue to go under. While Akamai and Limelight both talked about the future of HD and higher-quality video, more devices on the market, blu-ray streaming etc. none of that will take place any time soon on any kind of large scale to impact their revenue in the near-term.

Thony C. has a great post on whether it even makes sense to ask what role Christians of the Middle Ages had to play in the rise of science:
As I wrote in my very first internet blog post on the ideas of Rodney Stark when every single member of society in supposedly a Christian to talk in terms of a Christian role in the advent of science is meaningless, one must instead examine the proponents of natural philosophy according to the various schools of philosophy that they adhered to. Here, we don’t have a unified Christian thought propelling advances in science but various groups, Thomists, Ockhamists, Realists, Nominalists, Averroeists and a whole artist’s pallete of all shades to all sides and in-between, as well individualist loose cannons some of whom despite being outside of all cliques and group exercised a lot of influence. The very fact that there were so many shades of opinion and open conflicts produced an atmosphere of intense discussion that almost certainly played a significant role in the furtherance of scientific inquiry.
Sean Carroll makes a lot of sense:
My own goal is not really changing people’s minds; it’s understanding the world, getting things right, and having productive conversations. My real concern in the engagement/mockery debate is that people who should be academic/scholarly/intellectual are letting themselves be seduced by the cheap thrills of making fun of people. Sure, there is a place for well-placed barbs and lampooning of fatuousness — but there are also people who are good at that. I’d rather leave the majority of that work to George Carlin and Ricky Gervais and Penn & Teller, and have the people with Ph.D.’s concentrate on honest debate with the very best that the other side has to offer. I want to be disagreeing with Ken Miller or Garry Wills and St. Augustine, not with Paul Nelson and Ann Coulter and Hugh Ross.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Are Web-connected TVs going to cause problems for broadcasters?
The first TVs fitted with Yahoo-Intel’s widget engine have begun to ship in Europe amid speculation about their potentially disruptive impact on the TV landscape.

On the one hand web-enabled TVs retailing over £1000 (US $1600) are unlikely to attract a mass market, outside early adopters, given that over the past 18 months the industry has made a pretty successful attempt to encourage people to upgrade to flat-screen HD screens as digital switchover gathers pace.

Yet the no-fuss plug and play internet access that widgets provide, albeit in limited ‘walled garden’ form, will give broadcasters and platform owners pause for thought.

“It’s not a slam-dunk competitor but a development that chips away at the edges of the pay-TV business,” says Nigel Walley, managing director of media strategists Decipher. “Pulling up a widget on the Samsung TV pushes the broadcaster’s EPG to one side, potentially delivering on-demand content outside its control. Widgets will raise the appetite among consumers to use the main screen for more activity, putting pressure on STB manufacturers to raise their game.”

Samsung TV was first to launch in April with a six-month exclusive deal to market Yahoo TV Widgets software in its Internet@TV branded displays. Yahoo's UK channels include widgets for news and sports reports, Flickr and, as of mid-July, YouTube.
Larry Kudlow goes out on a limb:

Even today, as unfashionable as it sounds, and given Washington's attack on horsepower, Americans are still in love with automobiles. They still like going to showrooms, checking out the new models, inhaling the great new-car smell, and yes, kicking the tires and making a buy. Cars may no longer be the heart of our economy -- that's all techie, information gadgets now. But folks still love the car thing.

Now, I wouldn't want the government to pass out free money for everything. But in this particular case, the cash-for-clunkers rebate program is working. It's working so well that it's running way ahead of the computers that are administering it at the Transportation Department and Citibank.

Publishers are growing less tolerant with authors who can't meet their deadlines:
But as book sales fall and publishing houses look for ways to cut costs, many literary agents are growing increasingly worried that publishers looking to trim their lists will start holding authors to deadlines and using lateness as an occasion to renegotiate advances and, in some cases, terminate contracts altogether.

“Publishers are looking at their books and saying, ‘O.K., this book is two years late. Do we want it anymore?’” said Eric Simonoff, an agent at WME Entertainment. “If the answer is no, they’re saying, ‘We don’t want it anymore—we’re calling our loan.’”

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Every once in a while, PZ Myers stops beating the drum and remembers he's a scientist:

We miss something important when we just look at the genome as a string of nucleotides with scattered bits that will get translated into proteins — we miss the fact that the genome is a dynamically modified and expressed sequence, with patterns of activity in the living cell that are not readily discerned in a simple series of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs. What we can't see very well are gene regulatory networks (GRNs), the interlinked sets of genes that are regulated in a coordinated fashion in cells and tissues.

What this means is that if you look within a specific cell type at a specific gene, its state, whether off or on, will be correlated in a coherent way with a set of other genes. Look in a developing muscle cell, for instance, and you'll typically find a gene called MyoD is switched on, and also other genes, like Myf5 and myogenin. Look further, and you'll find others like C-jun and cyclin-dependent kinase 4, that also have their activity modulated in predictable ways. And when we start poking around experimentally, we discover that the relationships are often directly causal, with certain gene products binding to and modifying the expression of other genes.

Jane Friedman and Larry Kirshbaum, both former CEOs of major publishing houses, discuss the future of the industry.

Larry Moran has encouraging news for those of us sick of the "organic" label:
There was never a good reason for assuming that organically grown foods would be more healthy than conventionally grown food and now we have scientific evidence to support that assumption. From now on, whenever you hear someone say that "organic" foods are more healthy you can inform them that what they are saying is contrary to scientific evidence.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

When Stars Explode

Interesting new study on how the explosion of a star influences its leftover pulsar.
"In 2007, computer simulations suggested that the stars don't explode in perfectly smooth spheres (J. M. Blondin and A. Mezzacappa Nature 445, 58–60; 2007). This latest visualization, created by Hongfeng Yu, a computer scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, shows the entropy of the gases in the dying star's core, revealing the immense swirling currents that originated as tiny perturbations (gases with the highest entropy are yellow, followed by green and then purple). The currents "spin up the proto-neutron star, just like pulling a string on an old spinning top", says Bronson Messer, an astrophysicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who contributed to the research. The work incorporates a new visualization technique, developed at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, Illinois, which runs and visualizes the simulation directly on a Blue Gene/P supercomputer."
I'm not a fan of the Argument from Design as it's defended today by 'think tanks' on the right. Brandon Watson takes a close look at one of Hume's dialogues and beautifully clarifies why the Argument, at least as it is espoused today, is too easily open to attack.
Could you use a third set of teeth? I know I could, and there's some interesting progress on growing new teeth with mice.