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Submission + - XKCD Color Survey Has Interesting Results (

dragoncortez writes: Randall Munroe has posted the results of his color survey and his analysis is both thorough and surprising. It turns out that men and women name colors pretty much the same as a general rule, although women prefer flower-sounding color names, while men prefer such manly sounding color names as "penis" and "dunno." It also turns out that "nobody can spell 'fuchsia'”.

Comment Portable Firefox Affected? (Score 1) 275

I'm running a version of FF from I installed it to a USB stick a few days ago and as of right now I don't have the .NET assistant installed.

Maybe the solution to this garbage is to move away from downloads until they understand that we don't want automatic installs of useless software?

Also, why is everyone so keen on Mono lately? I don't need .NET in my Linux.

Comment Re:Punctuated equilibrium? (Score 1) 461

Hello, paleobiologist here. The short of it is that this particular work is not strongly relevant to Punc-Eq, but other works Lenski has done are relevant.

Well, Lenski's work (particularly the work he did with Travisano) has been part of the Punc-Eq debate for the last ten years. Basically, Lenski, Travisano and a few others showed (around 1995, in both a PNAS and a Science paper) that isolated bacteria populations placed on different substrates (nutrients) would rapidly adapt to their new substrate and followed by little apparent change (i.e. phenotypic change, in this case cell size and shape).

Sounds like Punc-Eq, right? Rapid change followed by stasis.

Now, the important thing to understand about Punc-Eq is that other than a few particularly closed-minded population geneticists, really no one has disputed that the phenomenon of Punc-Eq occurs: that evolutionary change is heterogenous, particularly over long time spans. There are some important exceptions, but it is now well accepted that (for the most part) the fine-scale fossil record consists mostly of rapid shifts, stasis and random-walks (G. Hunt, 2006 in PNAS). Also, it has been well documented that populations under adaptive change in the wild, like Darwin's Finches, can show rapid change.

The real argument is about cause. Lenski's work (and the work of others, such as Russell Lande) argued that Punc-Eq could be explained by environmental shifts, resulting in rapid adaptation followed by stabilizing selection (resulting in stasis). Gould and Eldredge argued multiple causes for Punc-Eq, but Gould tended to favor developmental constraint (at least in the 1980's); that organisms had difficulty changing their body-plan except during speciation when something changed in their population dynamics. Essentially, the developmental path became canalized and organisms couldn't jump out of it without some special situation. Eldredge argues (more along Sewall Wright lines) that interbreeding populations strung out across different habitats will stop the species from adapting to any one particular habitat. It is difficult to test either the intrinsic constraint hypothesis or the geographically-dispersed populations one. Thus, the selection-based hypothesis is well supported by evidence because it has been tested a bunch of times and the other two just don't get tested.

The real message of this article by Barrick et al is about neutral evolution: Kimura's 1970s hypothesis that the evolution of the genome was mostly by chronologically regular neutral mutations (changes to the genome that didn't result in changes to fitness). This is the basis of the molecular clock hypothesis. It may be important, as I used to get this mixed up myself, to point out that mutation rate is just the rate at which all genetic changes are introduced; thus adaptations are beneficial mutations. Its important to Kimura's hypothesis that the clock be due to neutral (or slightly deleterious) mutations, because otherwise it means the mutation rate is being controlled by adaptation, which is controlled by that vague and rapidly changing environment (which is a big problem for the molecular clock).

It appears that once the rapid adaptive changes had occurred in Lenski's bacteria populations, adaptation rate decreased, mutation rate decreased and was very clock-like for the next 20,000 generations. Sounds like Kimura was right, eh? Problem is, it appears those mutations were actually beneficial mutations, not neutral mutations. So apparently that was a period of very slow adaptation... genetic fine-tuning to the environment, perhaps. After 20,000 generations, the mutation rate suddenly sky-rocketed and a whole bunch of neutral mutations appeared. The big picture? The mutation rate was so heterogeneous and the signal of adaptation so hard to piece out, that reconstructing genomic rates of evolution from extant organisms (using the molecular clock hypothesis) may be problematic without lots and lots of data. And that's a pretty big message.

Comment Re:Proven Guilty? (Score 1) 394

Furthermore, it's unclear whether said screen grab was from the victim's own computer, or if someone else took the screen grab. (I don't use Facebook; can you see pokes on other people's accounts?)

No, you can't see pokes on other people's accounts. If you're taking a screenshot of pokes, it's positively your own pokes (assuming no HTML wizardry).

However, the logged-in user's name is also not visible once you've scrolled down to your pokes – it's at the top of the page, and the pokes are mid-way down the right-hand column. So it's quite likely that the screen-grab didn't contain any details which would positively prove that the victim actually took the screengrab.


1. Get restraining order
2. Ask mutual friend to poke the person you filed the restraining order against
3. They get poked back
4. ???
5. Claim you took the screenshot, profit!

(Late response... oh well. Today's stories didn't look too interesting.)

Comment Re:No quite yet. (Score 4, Insightful) 356

No stated in this article.

But I'm pretty sure the engine discussed will need to be roughly 100x more powerful to make that 39 day trip a reality.

No, not really. Hauling the fuel for chemical rockets into orbit is expensive, so mostly they do hard burns to get the right speed and direction, then they coast most of the trip. VASIMR doesn't need the heavy fuel, as it is solar powered, so it provides constant thrust. Apparently days of constant acceleration makes a difference.

- doug

Comment I'm dizzy. (Score 1, Interesting) 356

From the article:

A new NASA rocket engine, designed partly in Canada, raises the revolutionary possibility that a manned trip to Mars could take less than three months instead of two years.


It would take about 39 days to reach Mars, compared to six months by conventional rocket power.

In three paragraphs we go from 89 days to 39 days. So which is it? With that kind of difference, I'm not quite sure it would be any faster than conventional rockets.


Submission + - Universities will be 'irrelevant' by 2020 (

dragoncortez writes: According to this Deseret News article, University classrooms will be obsolete by 2020. BYU professor David Wiley envisions a world where students listen to lectures on iPods, and those lectures are also available online to everyone anywhere for free. Course materials are shared between universities, science labs are virtual, and digital textbooks are free. He says, "Higher education doesn't reflect the life that students are living. . .today's colleges are typically tethered, isolated, generic, and closed." In the world according to Wiley, universities would still make money, because they have a marketable commodity: to get college credits and a diploma, you'd have to be a paying customer. Wiley helped start Flat World Knowledge, which creates peer-reviewed textbooks that can be downloaded for free, or bought as paperbacks for $30.

Comment Re:Stuck in the old ways (Score 1) 522

That's great for now, but if that approach becomes more common, it will be just as easy to overcome as today's CAPTCHAs. The article is saying that we need systems that take automation out of the picture. Caps on number of messages/emails sent. Heuristic "profiling" on accounts. Reverse spam filtering. Methods that catch the bots after registering, rather than relying on the registration form as your sole defense.

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