Saturday, November 28, 2009

Contemplating the Harvest

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Beehive Design Collective

Todd Simmons over at tells us about a traveling group of artists known as the Beehive Design Collective presenting their unique brand of large scale murals in Fort Collins, Colorado on December 9th. This year's exhibit is dedicated to raising public awareness about mountain top removal mining practices and the accompanying destruction of natural resources. Have you ever been in a car and seen the above bumper sticker? The fine print on it says "West Virginia  Highlands Conservancy" representing those at the forefront battling the mining companies who practice mountain top removal.  For dates, times, and locations of the exhibits see Todd's article.  TPG feels strongly for the cause the collective has chosen and as we have said before, we should all LISTEN TO LARRY!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Why do so many people love to read about vampires? Is it the juxtaposition? Dead yet not dead, evil yet sexy, powerful yet fragile? Why is this fictional creature so captivating to so many and in a myriad incarnations? Today vampires have taken over CNN. With all the real world stuff unfolding and being explained each day why do people still gravitate to fantasy land? I am guilty of filching some fame by hitching my blog to the vampire bandwagon but when you are screaming at the top of your lungs next to the old tree falling in the forest what else are you left to do? The scientists -  P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins -  make their names by talking about God, yet do not believe in this idea. They are  hitching a ride on the oldest conversation  known to civilization to further their goal of expanding scientific literacy - and more power to them. Perhaps the vampire conversation is less prestigious but maybe it takes the edge off an otherwise awkward conversation between a scientist a fundamentalist opening a door to conversation.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Annie Leonard: An American Greenthinker

Today I was introduced to Annie Leonord and her wide angled view of the world. The following is an account of the string of connections leading me to her and her message. I'm explaining as an exercise in recall and illustration of how information moves in this day and age. I was trying to find the list of Top 50 books sold at the Matter Bookstore (where I volunteer) so I Googled "Wolverine Farm Publishing." On the first search results page I found this you tube review of Matter 11: The Woods put together by a guy named Christian Peet living his philosophy somewhere in the woods of Vermont. While perusing his other book reviews I stopped at a certain point where he describes the reason he will wear his purple flannel until it rots off his body, fighting the notion of perceived obsolescence for all to know. Here in his review of Alabama Steve he interjected a link to At this site there is a 20 minute flash movie that plays staring Annie Leonard. Annie Leonard is the author of the as yet to be published book "the Story of Stuff." The book will be based on the animated documentary that has been viewed over 7 million times on the web. Her scope is global and her message is clear. The following video comes from the Bioneers annual speakers event held in Marin County California this past October. If you can not see the video when you hit play try hitting the refresh button at the bottom left of the video window.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Speaking of vulgarity

A good friend of mine lamented today about the decline of journalism as he took offense to the use of the phrase "getting shafted" in this Star-Telegram headline. Though I think it unprofessional I also see a kind of merit in using it for dramatic effect. Though I can see it could be argued that this particular phrase pangs of misogyny, in general I think it safe to say people get too uptight about vulgarity in print or any other media for that matter. This brings us to a controversial film - Blazing Saddles. Perhaps knowing that my parents' first date was to see this film can explain my fascination with it. Can you imagine?!?! But when I saw this in the NYT movie critics corner I thought of my friend and how oversensitivity can sometimes have a chilling affect on the issues that need to be talked about the most!  The concept of a lampoon is too frequently lost in translation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whatever Works

Woody Allen still works!

Susan Jacoby: an American Freethinker

PZ Myers recently blogging about the under-representation of women and minorities in the freethinking realm has asked pharyngulites everywhere to brainstorm about who we want to hear and hold up as freethinking representatives historically given short shrift. PZ himself suggested Susan Jacoby to whom I have dedicated this post. I had not seen or heard about her until this and I find her both fascinating and infectiously energetic. Though I do not like the idea of categorizing people in the first place, as I think we should all be seen on an equal plane of cooperation, my recommendations for freethinkers in this brainstorm include, Octavia Butler, Margaret Attwood (happy belated birthday to her), Doris Kearns Goodwin, and my own grandmother. Again and again I have come back to their writings and speeches to be invigorated by their energy. Who do you consider an inspirational freethinker?

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Susan Jacoby

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
U.S. Speedskating

Kirk Cameron wants to teach you biology

Wow, how inspiring to see a man who studied biology all his life show such fiery passion for sharing his knowledge with the world. Oh wait...

Yes. These are the banana people...

Thunderf00t has a well put together rebuttal on you tube while Steve Mirsky takes off the gloves and calls a spade a spade in his 60 second science podcast for Scientific American. The title of his talk? Darwin in Battle of Wits against Unarmed Man

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Broken Rainbow

This evening I watched the following documentary at the Bean Cycle in Fort Collins, CO.  Having traveled to Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Kayenta, and the four corners one week ago I can report that the condition of the Navajo living on the reservation remains deplorable.  Forgotten by CNN these issues persistently plague the remaining descendants of peoples tormented by history. The Black Mesa Indigenous Support Group is an excellent starting place to find out more about the current state of affairs and ways to alleviate the burdens of living on and near disputed land in the Navajo/ Hopi reservations. 

Here we Grow

Thanks to the elephant of the heads up. If you are around Boulder, CO this new documentary is being shown at the Boulder Theater tonight.

Cornell Lab of "O"

The Cornell Lab of O was a social network before social networks were cool. Carl Zimmer over at the Loom recently posted this unique bird song inspiring me to take a virtual trip back to that magic little spot in Ithaca.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Department of Mad Scientists

The preceding conversation on NPR reminded me of this wonderfully put together video that I saw last March.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nader has a New Book

My father called and told me to watch this speech by Ralph Nader at the Miami Book Fair. He Saw it on C-SPAN2.   As much as Nader has polarized people with his "spoiler" role in the 2000 and 2004 elections I find myself agreeing with him on so much despite the controversy.  Especially his opposition to nuclear power!

If you liked this bit you can find the whole 50 minute clip here.

Mad in Moab

I took this photograph of the Colorado River one week ago and anger has been drumming up inside me ever since.  This image shows browned water leaching into the river from the old altas uranium mine site less than a mile north of Moab, Utah.  The Department of Energy working with hundreds of millions of US tax dollars now toils to excavate and relocate radioactive waste perturbed from this site  by a private company over forty years ago.  Is this the fate of Northern Colorado south Texas and southwestern South Dakota?   How can we stop it?   If you want to argue for uranium mining please look closely at this image first!

Friday, November 13, 2009

More Fun with Water Drops

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Post with the Most on Tom Paine's Ghost!

The competition is brewing up some interesting conversation. In contemplating her entry Kristianne of The Woolly Mamas writes in response to the Astronomist...

"I think exploring the analogous potential of cosmic re-ionization and the cultural renaissance is a brilliant idea. However, I would deduce that they are analogous because the periods of time they both succeeded have been mistakenly understood to be "dark" and empty and void of "knowing." I think it would be more interesting to argue that the smeary, rewritten, consciously contrived version of mediaeval history that has sunk deep in our collective cultural understanding is much like the time on Earth that preceded the first appearance of stars and galaxies, that both were periods of profound holism, unsensationally brimming with the foundations of all matter and knowledge--a richly saturated but star-less sky supplanted by glistening heavenly bodies in perfect geometry, and likewise fame-less monks who healed the cancerous and lame, premier decipherers of universal truths credited to later "light"-dwellers Copernicus and other great men of fame who's discoveries survived the careful revision and distortion attempts of the (re)written-record-makers."

~ I see what you are saying Kristianne. Useful knowledge has certainly emerged from unlikely places and often gone with no assigned credit. In the end you say (re)written-record-makers have made attempts to distort truths. I heartily agree with your assessment and see that as the beauty of living at this moment in history, where all literate people are the authors of history. Literacy has never been more essential for survival and your argument provides the reason. If only those in power write the record books they will be inevitably biased on the side of the superpower.  Our sustained ability to freely and openly communicate is the cytoskeleton of democracy.

Thank you for your wisdom and insight!

Words of Wisdom from the Tallest Man in the World

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A scientific understanding of the cosmos begins by gaining a sense of perspective.  Thanks to Mary and Claudia for digging this out of their memory banks.

Beauty in the everyday: water drop

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pride of the Navajo

Post with the Most on Tom Paine's Ghost!

Get your keyboards dusted off and ready to take part in a good ol' fashion competition of creativity. The first annual Post with the Most on Tom Paine's Ghost is underway. Read the details here. A cash prize and glory as long as the internet lives await the winner.

The Astronomist shows the first inkling of interest bringing our collective attention to a dark period in the history of the universe.

"My own research centers around the end of the cosmic dark ages, reionization. The cosmic dark ages are a period of time between about 300,000 and 1 billion years after the big bang where there were no stars or galaxies. During reionization the first stars and galaxies formed and the modern era of galaxy evolution began. Quite and amazing analogy to the cultural renaissance. Perhaps I should write about this..."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Carl!

Today is Carl Sagan's 75th birthday. May his spirit live on. A real world Spock, Carl Sagan represents so much to anyone lucky enough to catch even a little of his infectious enthusiasm. My fascination with Carl did not begin, as it should have, when I watched Cosmos in middle-school earth science class, but rather when I spent a year of weekends in Ithaca, NY talking to people that had lived around him and knew the man. His existence like the existence of so many bright stars shined through the smiles of people's faces when you asked about him. He is legend for his passion. Inspiring countless scientists to pursue their own passion for critical thinking and skepticism while balancing these things with a sense of wonder and fantastic speculation. Dragons of Eden was a transformative book for me having the same kind of effect as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Siddhartha. Recommended to me by one of my first scientific mentors this walk through the human mind was unparalleled for me in clarity and intrigue. Attempting to explain and rationalize the seemingly impenetrable world of emotions by suggesting biochemical origins and charting out evolutionary pathways the brain's systems may have arisen through brought a sense of possibility. Thinking it possible that someday humans might understand their own physico-chemical make up well enough to predict and prevent suffering made it seem worth pursuing science as a life's goal.

For me his reach went further than Ithaca, eventually following me to Fort Collins, Colorado. Here in my second year of graduate school I was lucky enough to meet and discuss some big ideas in biology with Lynn Marguilis, once married to Carl. She was visiting as a Monfort Scholar and gave two lectures, one on the Gaia Theory and one on the current state of endosymbiont thought. The most striking of the information presented there still echos in my memories. She talked about green worms that had actually incorporated photosynthsizing algae under their skin to provide food for themselves in-house! The first inklings of a plant-animal hybrid. After her second lecture she gave an extra discussion session which only a handful opted to attend. Here we were able to discuss the rise of the eukaryotes for hours almost one on one. While we talked I was tempted to ask her about Carl but kept the conversation centered on science. As the first person to really communicate broadly the endosymbiont theory she and I speculated on the origins of histones and their role in keeping distinctions between the eukaryotes and their helpful passengers - the mitochondria and the chloroplasts. The smile she had on her face as she let her biological wisdom flow into open ears came from herself, yes, but I could not help but think Carl's spirit and the synergistic conversations they must have had. Their son Dorian Sagan continues in his father's path telling the world about amazing science as it happens. If you have not experienced Carl please let him speak for himself.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Response to Robert Carter

By Kristopher Hite

This rant was composed after reading about a "geneticist" named Robert Carter who recently gave a three part lecture series in Fort Collins, Colorado on how Darwin was wrong and "modern science" disproves evolution.

Intelligent design proponents sure know how to put on a show. Sad to see that they really never talk about actual science. I'd like to know how our collective modern understanding of genetics, species, biochemical processes, proteins, plate tectonics, and sedimentation disprove evolution. To me the scientific method has uncovered an enormous amount of data to back up some of Darwin's fundamental postulations.

Evolution by means of natural selection through descent with modification. That was Darwin's novel concept and that has indeed withstood the test of time. Emerging information is constantly incorporated into the overarching theories that make up the cornerstones of modern science. And evolution is one of these cornerstones.

Since I opened by complaining that Robert Carter did not anywhere in this article talk about any actual science let me follow my own advice. While studying biochemistry it is impossible to avoid making some observations that can be very well explained by evolution. This happened for me recently while contemplating the molecules known as the porphyrins. These are the conjugated macro-cyclic rings that hold iron in its place in hemoglobin (the proteins in blood that shuttle oxygen around the body). These SAME molecules - the porphyrins - are also used by plants to hold magnesium atoms in place to do some of the key enzymatic reactions converting light energy to chemical energy in the chlorophyll. In both humans and plants the same set of enzymes build the porphyrin molecules though in the end the molecules have different functions. However, when the genetic disease porphyria arises in an animal a strange thing happens. The mal-formed porphyrins revert to their plant function as light harvesters. Indeed these molecules exist as non-functioning metabolites in any animal with a gall bladder. Called bilins these molecules serve no function other than to make the bile the green color. But in plants the "phycobilins" actually decorate the thylakoid membrane within the chloroplast and help harvest and subsequently direct light energy into the photo-centers (where the reactions that turn light energy into chemical bonds happen). In a human patient with porphyria these bilins build up to high concentrations in the skin, blood, urine and tooth enamel.

The tooth enamel is where an observer can see these molecules revert to their evolutionary heritage. When UV light is shone on the teeth of a patient of porphyria, the teeth glow! The mal-formed porphyrin molecules are reverting to their plant function - harvesting light energy! In this one instance we see that the biochemistry of humans and plants are one and the same.

We do have a common ancestor with all life in fact, and the keys to understand this fact lie in the base paired code of our genome. We can see what we call homologs. Basically these are genes that are the same in more than one species. But not only that, we can trace back, through molecular phylogeny, certain genes that have duplicated and then diverged in their ultimate function. The porphyrin-containing family of proteins is one example but there are thousands of others. This simple observation blows the "irreducible complexity argument" favored by so many intelligent design proponents, out of the water because it explains how the seemingly infinite complexity of the cell can actually be explained by the emergence of new genetic "concepts" by the process of gene duplication and divergence.

Until a vast majority of the global population can move past this silly debate of whether all living things on earth were created "as is" by an invisible sky-father 6,000 years ago, or the product of millions and millions of years of evolution by natural selection driven by descent with modification, we really can not move forward toward any kind of sustainable future. In fact, if we keep bickering about this nonsensical non-science we will most likely have a real-world rapture of our own making in the form of global resource wars caused by climate refugees, resource depletion, and overpopulation. Only by understanding why the dodo and the dinosaur went extinct can we hope to postpone our own extinction.

Are there Demons in your M&Ms?

This is why Nick and I still need to give our Biochemistry of Halloween lecture. Read about our attempt to elaborate on some rational explanations of the origins of vampires, witches, and zombies here here and here.

Our talk, originally slated for last Wednesday October 28th, was canceled due to the freak snow storm in Colorado. It was rescheduled for this Wednsday November 4th at 3PM in 101 Pathology at the CSU campus in Fort Collins, CO. If you can't make it we will try to have it up on you tube by Thursday.

Magnetic Fields in the Everyday

Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.