What is it?

I spotted this gadget at a local thrift store. I could not make out what it is. An electric back-massager? The staff didn’t know–they were just selling it.

It has an electrical plug-in, a switch, and two hand-grips. The curved section rotates 360 degrees around the axis of the handle. It’s about 75 cm long (just over 2′). Any guesses?

Two car bombs defused in London

Two car bombs were found and defused in London, partly by luck. Sharp-eyed ambulance attendants responding to a minor injury at a popular London disco near Piccadilly noticed a car parked by the door that was smoking slightly–inside. Inside was a powerful nail-bomb.

Another car was towed because it was illegally parked. Towing staff noticed a “strange smell” of gasoline, parked it away from the other cars, and alerted people who discovered that it was another mobile bomb.

Both cars are being eagerly searched for clues to who left them.

Bloody terrorists. Britain is not afraid!

Still, this might lead to a heightened state of tension: more watchfulness and an extra cup of tea.

Another LOLusc

LOLusc, courtesy of LolCat Buildr

Losing momentum

I’ve been out of town for six days. In a misguided burst of efficiency, I took only a couple of books. I left The book I’d been reading, Niles Eldredge’s “The Miner’s Canary,” because I had only a chapter or two to read. But the book is essentially all one long essay in an area I don’t know in detail. So now I feel that I have to back up a few chapters to refresh my memory. Maybe I should just finish it, then read the whole book again to make sure it’s fixed in my mind.

UPDATE: I finished it on Friday.

Mysteries of God

E. Haldeman-Julius said:

“Look at the God idea from any angle, and it is foolish, it doesn’t make sense, but extravagantly proposes more mysteries than it assumes to explain. For instance, is it sensible that a real God would leave mankind in such confusion and debate about his character and his laws? There have been many alleged revelations of God. There have, indeed, been many Gods as there have been many Bibles. And in different ages and different lands an endless game of guessing and disputing has gone on. Men have argued blindly about God. They still argue — just as blindly. And if there is a God, we must conclude that he has willfully left men in the dark. He has not wanted men to know about him. Assuming his existence, then it would follow that he would have perfect ability to give a complete and universal explanation of himself, so that all men could see and know without further uncertainty. A real God could exhibit himself clearly to all men and have all men following his will to the last letter without a doubt or a slip. But when we examine even cursorily the many contradictory revelations of God, the many theories and arguments, the many and diverse principles of piety, we perceive that all this talk about God his been merely the natural floundering of human ignorance. There has been no reality in the God idea which men could discover and agree upon. The spectacle has been exactly what we should expect when men deal with theories of something which does not exist. Hidden Gods — no Gods — all we see is man’s poor guesswork.

— “The Meaning of Atheism”

Mapping the brain with light

Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have genetically modified the brains of mice to produce light-sensitive proteins, which can then be used to trace the three-dimensional structure of neural connections in new and more accurate ways.

Greg Laden on "Is evolution still going on?"

… his post is about humans, but it applies to any population. I want it for LotStreetWiz, who is a whiz with systems and project management and municipal boundaries and stakeholders and economics, but who regards plants as “green leafy thing (small)” or “green leafy thing (large)” [sort of the way I view cars: “Just follow that Puffendorfer.” – “You mean that big grey thing?”] and who occasionally asks me to explain some part of genetics or biology. So: “Is evolution still going on?

LOLcats: Evolution Cat

A surviving species can be compared to a cat walking along a fence. If the conditions are the same along a latitude, at a certain altitude, or going forward in time, the fence is straight, and the cat must go with it or fall off. If the conditions change and the fence turns, the cat must follow it as long as possible. If there’s only one spot with the right conditions, the animal must stay on that fence-post.

Natural selection does not enforce change. Sometimes it enforces continued sameness. As long as conditions are constant, the organism stays constant. If the adaptive landscape has a stable peak at for a certain organism, that organism will reproduce unchanged for as long as the peak lasts. Any change away from the stable form means a change away from fitness.

Remember that other organisms can change the conditions of an environment without climate or other factors changing. For example, a faster wolf can select for a faster antelope.

Evolution has neither an inherent push upwards nor any inherent direction. It is a reaction to current conditions. As time goes on, there is more time for some organisms to become more highly derived, and that’s what we notice. But the bulk of the earth’s biomass is always bacteria and the average lifeform remains a bacterium.

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