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Comment matter vs. antimatter... I KNOW! (Score 1) 205

why we, and everything else we observe today, are made of matter and not anti-matter

Call me crazy, but I bet that if we and everything we observed were made of anti-matter, we would just call it "matter". :p

Seriously, though, doesn't it have to be one or the other (since a mix will lead to annihilation)? I'm assuming the real question is why what we call "matter" managed to beat out anti-matter instead of a balance of both kinds being made at the beginning, which would then annihilate.


Comment Sir Isaac Newton (Score 4, Funny) 542

Apart from the laws of motion and calculus and all that, he also invented the cat-flap door so he wouldn't have to manually let his cat in or out.

Ok, he probably wasn't the first to cut a hole in a door for cats, be he is apparently the first to be documented doing it. Funnily enough, when his cat had kittens, he cut a separate smaller hole for them, apparently not realizing that they could (and probably would) just follow the mother through her larger door.

Comment Re:The Author Sent Me a Note (Score 1) 44

Just from your review I understood that it was not at all a "regular person" kind of book. Sounds rather interesting, but seems to require a lot of knowledge ahead of reading. I'm sure there are a few /.ers that are genetic specialists and microbiologists that can enjoy.

And high school biology teachers only a background in marine biology and no formal training in genetics, genomics, and molecular biology to the extent presented in the book...

When this book first came out on Amazon, it was free for a period, and I managed to nab it then. It is an outstanding book, but it IS a long, heavy read (I imagine so, even for the experts, but maybe not). It probably really helped that I had read several of Dr. Koonin's papers over the years and was familiar with his style of writing and some of his work (I may be a mere HS biology teacher, but I'm nerd enough to enjoy reading research papers for fun). It also helped that I am fascinated by the subject and have done my best to get caught up on the latest stuff happening, both for my own understanding and for teaching to my students so they will have some idea what is going on in the field *now* when they graduate.

Anyway, FWIW, I left a review on Amazon. Here is what I wrote:

This book is targeted at the experts but can be understood well enough by knowledgeable amateurs with some background in genomics (even unofficial; mine comes from my hobby of reading research papers because I am fascinated with biology). Having already read a good number of Dr. Koonin's papers as well as several others referenced in the book helped.

Anyway, this was a fascinating, thought-provoking read, though it was also rather difficult. Koonin's writing style, which serves him quite well in academic papers, doesn't translate extremely well to a full length book. For the sake of comparison, because both books seem to be targeted at a similar level crowd, it is not as readable as "The Extended Phenotype" by Richard Dawkins.

However, the ideas are fascinating, and this book seems to be an excellent overview of modern genomics research and what it tells us about what we understand and misunderstand about evolution. I certainly learned a lot about these topics as well as directions that future research will be taking. While I was less than impressed with some of the conclusions near the end (for example, the appeal to MWO and weak Anthropic Principal seemed to me to be a cop-out and at best should be a hypothesis of last resort).

However, I am not an expert, just an interested knowledgeable amateur, so I am not in the best position to judge Dr. Koonin's interpretations of the various data and research. But, whether his interpretations are spot on or not, they are certainly quite thought provoking, and will certainly serve science by creating discussion and lying groundwork for real testable hypotheses of all of the topics of genomics and evolution he discussed.

If you are very interested in biology, genetics, genomics, and evolution, you will want to read this book.

All in all, it's a good book. However, many will find that it isn't worth the $40 price tag unless they are actually people really interested in and fairly familiar with this field. It's definitely targeted at the scientists, not the general non-expert public.

Comment Re:A bit of explanation to save you from RTFAing (Score 5, Informative) 198

In modern classification, there is no Protist kingdom. Protists are polyphyletic, which means they have representatives in many different groups (or Kingdoms, if you want), and each group is linked by a common ancestor. Though they are still working out the actual branches of the Eukarya tree (a lot of the early branching is difficult to resolve because of so much genome re-arranging and duplications, insertions, and deletions), one fairly recent paper suggests at least 6 "Kingdoms": Opisthokonta (which includes fungi, animalia, and some of what were previously thought of as protists), Amoebazoa (amoebas, slime moulds, etc), Archaeplastida (plantae, red algae, and green algae), Chromalveolata, Rhizaria, Excavata, and some groups that aren't clearly in those groups. This paper by Roger and Simpson from 2004 has a good summary:

Simpson, A.G.B. & Roger, A.J., 2004. The real "oekingdoms" of eukaryotes. Current biology, 14(17), p.693-696. Available at: http://kfrserver.natur.cuni.cz/studium/prednasky/bunka/2005/simpson_eukevol.pdf. (PDF link)

I'm sure there has been more work since then, but that paper is accessible to non-experts and a good overall read (though I recommend having wikipedia open to see what organisms they are talking about when they list names).

Modern classification is a bit of a mess, because Nature doesn't fit into the neat hierarchical classification system that we grew up with. A good example of this is the idea of the Animal, Fungi, and Plant kingdoms of old. If Animals and Fungi deserve their own kingdoms, then at the same hierarchical level, each plant "phylum" should actually be a kingdom. Or something along those lines. But anyway more modern classification uses monophyletic groups (groups in which all members have a common ancestor; e.g. Eukarya is monophyletic because all eukaryotes share a common ancestor, but Protista is polyphyletic because there are protists which have a more recent common ancestor with animals than they do with other protists).


About the article, man that thing is a mess. Is it a translation problem, are the journalists who wrote it completely clueless, or are the researchers who discovered this organism extremely out of date with their classification? It reads more like a discovery from 1970 than 2012. :-/

Comment The problem... (Score 3, Informative) 113

I live in Thailand, so I'm really getting a kick...

mcgrew said...

I'm pretty sure that in Thailand's case, it's not to keep people from saying bad things about the government, but to keep them from saying bad things about the king.

The problem with this is that the government is treating criticism of the government as criticism of the King, so they use the lese majeste laws to stifle their opponents. It is my understanding that the King does not even agree with the lese majeste laws and has pardoned a good number of people who have been convicted under them. However, he tries to keep his hands off political things because that would (apparently) ruin the constitutional monarchy he is intent on having (which doesn't really exist, what with all of the corruption and coups and such). Also, he is really old and basically on death's doorstep, and so probably doesn't even have the capacity to say anything about these abuses now, or may not even be aware of them.

So, instead the extremely corrupt and petty Thai government gets to have its way with these laws and use them to stifle any criticism of government they choose.

The King of Thailand is actually quite a decent guy who has done a lot of good things over his reign. The people love him, and with good reason. However he doesn't actually rule the country (though he easily could, and the people would support him), so the government has its own way and he keeps his hands off. And the Thai people get to suffer for it (unless they have the money to pay their way out of any trouble).

Comment Re:U.S. is established on religion, so (Score 2) 900

They insist their God, Science, can indeed answer the big questions of Life, the Universe and Everything. But of course it can't.

Uh no. It's more likely that we disagree what the big questions actually are. But, just to be sure, why don't you give us examples of questions you feel that science can't touch, and we'll see if those are actually big questions about the universe or just questions that flatter the human ego.

Comment Re:Exciting! (Score 1) 105

As someone who grew up on Marathon and remembers it well as it was, the original Marathon did NOT have mouse look. It did have free look of a sort. Unlike Doom II, which had no actual vertical aiming and instead auto aimed any shots up or down, Marathon had vertical aiming, and you actually had to aim at things to hit them. Add to that that the game had no targeting reticle and it made for some difficult moments. It also had quick glances left and right, which were really dangerous if someone became proficient at them. You could run off a ledge in one direction, quick glance to the side while in mid-air and snap off a rocket or a grenade to take out an opponent, and quickly be accused of cheating by those who didn't know about or know well how to use the controls. ;)

But, the original game did not have mouse aiming and was fully keyboard controlled.

Fun fact: the game also never had jumping or crouching. Fun fact #2: the game invented the grenade-hop. Doom II gets credit for the rocket hop, in that you could used the rocket launcher to give you a slight horizontal speed assist to get across a larger gap than normal (it also had no jumping, along with no aiming), but Marathon with it's vertical aiming invented the modern grenade hop and rocket hop or using the blast from an explosion to give you a boost.

Comment Re:They don't do self-replication (Score 2) 259

You don't have to have the ability to replicate in order to be alive. For example worker bees can't reproduce, yet they may be considered alive. Also women past menopause and kids are alive yet they can't replicate. Or even some people who many not be fertile for whatever reason.

Also you can't make "ability" to evolve as part of the definition of life.

This is a very narrow, organism-focused view point. Every cell in bees and other "dead-ends" such as all of your somatic cells, are full of replicators, evolved in such a way to enhance the further replication of the germ-line into future generations. Without genetic replication, life as we know it cannot exist. So, yes, replication is a defining aspect of life.

As for the "ability to evolve"... it's not a definer, but more of an emergent property of any and all systems with error prone replication.

Comment Re: "without consequence" (Score 4, Insightful) 380

In the real world, in the absence of government, I could walk up to you and smash you in the head with a rock killing you and then take everything you have without consequence. There's your "inherent" rights.

That is only true in isolation; that is, only if you and your victim are the only people to witness. Otherwise, there will probably be consequences. Do that to someone in your same hypothetical absence of government in front of the victim's friends or family or other such group that we humans have evolved to form so readily, and I highly doubt that you would be walking away "without consequence".

So called "inherent rights" and "natural rights" are not necessarily, clear, discrete properties of an organism or a person or however you are defining us. Rather, they are more like emergent properties that will emerge naturally from being the gregarious social organism we have evolved to be. Rights appear because of the "social contract" of being such an organism.

And if you still think those rights are "inherent" then I suggest you take a trip to Somalia or Afghanistan or Syria or Bahrain.

And if you think in such a place a person can do anything like you suggested in your hypothetical example, you are also much mistaken. There will be consequences. Take away someone's "right to life" and unjustly kill them in front of anyone, friend or family or other, who thinks fondly of them for feels you are being unjust, and you may just find there are consequences to infringing on someone's so-called rights.

Comment Re: "without a clear way to disable it" (Score 1) 278

That's certainly nice of them (and quite unexpected from previous experience) to finally have some settings default to privacy. I would be interested to know if it stays that way the next time FB fiddles with the ToS or the privacy options. That's not minding the sheer number of privacy options and settings which makes all the harder for the less technically inclined to set correctly if they didn't give up immediately.

That's why I pretty much scramble for the privacy settings every time I see a news story about a new FaceBook feature. However, either a.) I've been lucky and they overlooked setting "on" as default for new features in my account or b.) they somehow actually take into account the privacy amount of current settings and make the new setting in line with that (e.g. if someone has everything shared with everyone, then the new thing defaults to "on", but if someone is like me and has things fairly well locked down and controlled, then the new thing defaults to "off"), or c.) something else.

I don't know how they do it. All I know is that whenever a story hits and people start freaking out about what FaceBook is doing to their privacy, I check my account settings and find I have no obvious cause to complain. Of course, the closet conspiracy theorist inside me suggests the possibility that the settings aren't actually protected when it comes to sharing data with advertisers or for other purposes, but he has no evidence of that yet, so I tell him to shut up. ;)

Comment Re: "without a clear way to disable it" (Score 2) 278

This is about automated, mass identification for profit without a clear way to disable it, opt-out, or delete the data, nor do people really know who ends up with this information and what those buyers can do with it.

Account menu -> Privacy Settings -> Customize -> "Suggest photos of me to friends" Settings -> Disabled

Seems pretty clear to me, as it is a logical progression through the menus and pages. It's not hard to find. It is easy to disable. It's probably already disabled for many people.

And, at least on my account, it was disabled by default. i.e. As soon as I heard about this feature, I went immediately to my account privacy settings to turn it off and found that it was already turned off.

Comment Re:Completely? (Score 1) 550

I don't abstain intentionally. I've just never been prescribed any medication, and have never needed it. I have no objection to taking prescription medicine if I ever actually have need, but I've never been seriously injured or ill enough to need it. Only times I've ever been to the hospital for my own problems in my life were broken bones (and a set of stitches when I was very young), and those simply required setting, putting on a cast, and doing nothing for several weeks.

"Abstain" is the only choice there. Even choosing "seldom and glad of it" would be a lie, because it really is a "never" for me.

Comment Celestia (Re:How long till) (Score 1) 362

I've found that most people can't grasp how big space is. I can on a intellectual level but most people don't seem to understand just how distance even the closest stars are. I've met a few who thought a lightyear was the distance it took up to travel in a year in a modern space shuttle. But wow Voyager is going itno the black, I hope it doesn't turn into a Reaver.

Indeed. I always felt like I kind of "got it" on an intellectual level of matching big numbers to huge differences. But I realized that I didn't really get it until I started playing with Celestia, a free space simulator that lets you move around the universe using actual astronomical data. Everything is to scale in that program, and it really does give you a feel for just how big and empty space really is.

I highly recommend playing with it, for anyone who really wants to try to grasp the hugeness of space. :)

Comment Article could use a fact-checker (Score 3, Informative) 129

From TFA:

"This is a necessary first step in the process," said Parker. "We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the neuron, and eventually the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses?"

Uhhh... That number of synapses is off by about 10 orders of magnitude. I assume the number of synapses was meant to be a "per neuron" number, but that's a pretty glaring thing to leave out of that sentence. :-/

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