May 31, 2008

Industrial farms: "animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse"

Where good fruits and veggies grow up. Where beef should come from. My blog: where dangling prepositions hang out.

You know sustainable agriculture is going mainstream when the NY Times [editorial: The Worst Way of Farming], Johns Hopkins and the Pew researchers put factory farms on the front burner. The report Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America is a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

From the Pew Commission:
The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves, according to an extensive 2½-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP), in a study released today.

Commissioners have determined that the negative effects of the IFAP system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now. And while some areas of animal agriculture have recognized these threats and have taken action, it is clear that the industry has a long way to go.

"Food animals that are treated well and provided with at least minimum accommodation of their natural behaviors and physical needs are healthier and safer for human consumption."

(Washington, DC – May 8, 2008) The response to the Pew Commission on Industrial FarmProduction’s (PCIFAP) final report and recommendations has been overwhelming. Influential elected officials, health, environmental and farm organizations and newspaper editorial boards are weighing in on the Commission’s report and recommendations, which, if followed, could help alleviate the negative effects the industrial farm animal production system currently poses on public health, the environment, rural communities and animal welfare. The report garnered so much attention that the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy invited PCIFAP staff to debrief several of its staff members last week on the Commission’s report. [Source]
Hope springs eternal [sigh].

The right way:
Photo by Richard Morgenstein for Morris Grassfed Beef. 'Our cows are never put into feedlots. They are born, raised and finished on California’s breathtaking Central Coast rangelands.'

Chickens. don't. menstruate.

Repeat after me:

Menstruation has nothing to do with eggs. Ovulation produces eggs. Menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining, the endometrium. Menstruation occurs only in some mammals. Chickens are not mammals. I will not sleep through high school biology again. I will not sleep through high school biology again. I will not sleep through high school biology again.
Thanks to Antinous of Boing Boing for the quote, and thanks to Terrierman for the vid [third one in linked post] of the raw food peeps chiding us [er, me — I had (cage-free!) scrambled eggs for breakfast] for exploiting chicken periods.

Also: pendejo means 'pubic hair.'

This concludes today's installment of Our Bodies, Our Selves. Tune in next week and find out: Is honey really just bee spit?

May 30, 2008

At play in the fields of the Lord

These photos are so strange and beautiful and haunting to me that I'm posting a lot of them. Check out the story here: Isolated Tribe Spotted in Brazil.

One of South America's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been spotted and photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru.

The Brazilian government says it took the images to prove the tribe exists and help protect its land.
More here: what the pictures may show.

All photos are by Gleison Miranda of Funai. [You can click for somewhat bigger on all the photos above.]
The photos were taken during several flights over one of the most remote parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil's Acre region.

They show tribe members outside thatched huts, surrounded by the dense jungle, pointing bows and arrows up at the camera.

"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," the group quoted Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, an official in the Brazilian government's Indian affairs department, as saying.

"This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."

Dial-up users, beware: the photos below are hermugeous if clicked.

"The series of buildings have very little space cleared around them, and are set deep into the forest. This suggests that the tribe are keen to keep themselves hidden."
Yeah — I got that vibe, too.

May 27, 2008

Where can I buy a Richter Scale? Earthquake FAQ

My grandfather was actually a student of Dr. Richter's at CalTech, and I have a couple old Richter scales that were "rehomed" when the present CalTech seismology lab was built and the old scales were replaced. The ones I have probably date to the mid-1930s and are in good condition except for a few scratches on the wooden parts. The wiring is original, and no one has used them for years, but I'm sure it would be possible to replace a few parts and have the scales up and running. Great conversation pieces!

I keed. The Richter scale is a mathematical formula, not a type of seismograph. And the math up above? That's a scale, too: the moment magnitude scale, introduced in 1979 by Tom Hanks [the other one] and Hiroo Kanamori as a successor to the Richter scale. The terrible earthquake in China on May 12 measured 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale.

I was born and raised along the San Andreas Fault, which will tend to make a person interested in earthquakes. My favorite first stop for all kinds of totally fascinating earthquake material is the U.S. Geological Survey's awesome FAQ. A few of the questions appear in the screen grab below:

Also check out [and bookmark, so that you can fill out and submit the "Did you feel it?" form after the next shaker] the USGS Earthquake homepage:

Thousands of children in Sichuan died when their school buildings collapsed during the earthquake. How do U.S. schools measure up when it comes to quake safety? See Turning Schools from Death Traps into Havens.

Yep, there's a USGS Earthquake Preparedness FAQ, too. And you can always access the USGS earthquake pages via the earthquake map at the foot of this blog Recent Earthquakes link in the right sidebar.

May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

From flickr, via DIGG, via Kitsune Noir.

Climate change

Nothing compared to the lethal tornadoes in Minnesota and Iowa, but a real twister: check out the home video in this L.A. Times link. Our SoCal tornado only flipped a big rig and derailed a train, but it added further weirdness to one of the weirdest storm systems I've seen in a while.

A week ago SoCal's inland valleys were a sweltering 100 degrees F. Then the temps nosedived -- look at Wrightwood:

We had hail. We had rain by the buckets. Down at the farm some wheelbarrows had been left standing outside the barn, and they were filled with rainwater. There was thunder and lightning: thunder that didn't just crash and boom, but kept on rumbling for what seemed like ages. The collies have been happier.

As everyone knows, the Inland Empire always gets rain this time of year because the Orange Show Fairgrounds were built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground. [Shut up.]

Today there are just a few clouds in the sky, but it's cold enough this morning that the pit bulls are bundled up in their faux sheepskin beds and I'm hunting for earmuffs. OMG, it's 50 F degrees on the back porch. Unreal.

Read this climate change classic: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

I'm heading to the market — if I'm not back in 15 minutes, send a dog with a flask of brandy —

May 21, 2008

Dog bite prevention: "The disease is us."

Here are some easy-to-follow directions for creating a dog that will bite somebody.

1. Don't read up on dog breeds, dog behavior or dog training before you get your dog.

2. Don't get a pit bull or a Rottweiler. Buy a "safe breed."

3. Get your dog from a pet shop, or from a neighbor who bred his untrained, outside dog to make some extra cash.

4. Don't socialize your puppy. The socialization window slams shut at four months, but who has the time to introduce a pup to 100 new people [of every age and aspect] by the time he's twelve weeks or so? Besides, you don't want Scout to be friendly with strangers. You want him to be protective.

5. Don't train your pup. If Scout chews on the furniture or is too stubborn or too damn dumb to be house-trained, you can always just leave him in the yard.

6. Don't worry if Scout runs off and roams the neighborhood. If he gets enough exercise, maybe he won't bark outside your bedroom window all night. It's not like there's a leash law or anything.

7. Find another dog to mate with your first one. Your cousin's next-door-neighbor wants to breed the family pet, and this kind of dog is so popular, you'll have all the pups sold in no time. They're selling for $1200 apiece at the pet shop in the mall, did you see that?

8. Or, you know, you could just give them away in front of the local market. To anybody.


Extensive research and investigation using 40 years of data has conclusively identified the reckless and criminal ownership practices that can cause a dog to become dangerous:


Owners failing to humanely contain, control and maintain their dogs (chained dogs, loose roaming dogs, cases of abuse/neglect), and owners failing to properly supervise interaction between children and dogs.


Owners maintaining dogs for guarding/protection, fighting, intimidation/status, or as yard dogs. Such dogs are resident dogs, not family pets.


Owners failing to spay or neuter animals not used for competition, show, or in a responsible breeding program.
From 2005-2007, increased focus on the negligent and criminal human behaviors has resulted in 31% of owners and/or parents of young victims being criminally charged.

The quotes above, as well as the quote in this post's title, are from Karen Delise, a nationally known authority on dog bites. Her website on dog attacks is remarkably thorough, and thoroughly fascinating. [Mine ain't bad, either ;~) ] The "dog bites" tag on this blog will bring up more information.


A few more facts: most dog-bite victims are young children. Most bites occur at home. In most cases, the dog involved belongs to the family or to friends. The single, most valuable dog-bite prevention measure? Parental supervision of children with the family dog. Over 6,000 Americans are hospitalized each year because of dog bites. The vast majority of those hospitalizations involve "safe breeds."


Tragedy in Texas: loose, untrained, unsocialized dogs kill a seven-year-old. Here's the link. "Four pit bulls," said the Associated Press reporter. Here are screen grabs of one of them:

Looks like a sheepdog mix to me... But it must be a pit bull, because safe breeds never bite — do they?

Dog attacks are a symptom. The disease is us.

May 20, 2008

May 19, 2008

Want a dog? Go to class!

It's the law in Switzerland: beginning this fall [and fully in effect by 2010], before you acquire a dog you must take a class on dog care. Then, during your first year with your new canine companion, the two of you must attend a training class so that you will be able to "control your animal in all situations of daily life." [The law already requires dogs in Geneva, Switzerland to be muzzled in public parks: see photo.] You must be un chef dominant, because your dog is un animal hiérarchique, descendant du loup.

Dust off Google Translator [if necessary] and check out this link: Les futurs propriétaires de chiens doivent désormais suivre une formation théorique et pratique.

More here: New Swiss law protects rights of 'social' animals. As opposed to... you know.

Bluegrass report is up at Shoofly Farm

Run over to Robin's blog for her report on the Bluegrass Trial. Tommy Wilson and Sly must have been ossum to watch — hope there will be photos posted on blogs and boards soon. Thanks, Robin!

Twitter redux

I think I need a better cell phone. I think I need to use my cell phone.

May 18, 2008

Great photography: Craig Koshyk's Sporting Dogs

If anyone has ever taken better photos of sporting dogs, real sporting dogs, I have yet to see them. Professional photographer and teacher Craig Koshyk takes wonderful photos of gun dogs — working portraits that make a person covet a keen Braque du Bourbonnais, like the one in Craig's photo on the left [see the full size here], or a Deutsch Drahthaar, or a Perdiguero de Burgos. The photos show what the outdoors feels like: see, for example, the wind in the photo of Craig's Uma with a ruffed grouse. Yes, Craig hunts over dogs of his own, and he knows what to look for. [Check out the videos in his latest blog post. No, he does not suck at making videos.]

In addition to his blog [big hat tip to Andrew of the Vizslak for the link], Craig of course has a most excellent website of photos. He's reorganized the site in the last week or so, and I know this because I can't find his photos of a dog I had fallen in love with: a gray, good-sized, wire-haired Eastern European dog. Good thing Craig is preparing a book. It's called The Continentals — "a guide to the versatile hunting dogs of continental Europe" — and it's slated for publication in early 2009. I can't wait.

Does this mean I have to join Twitter?


Alltop is is going to be huge, I just know it — huge like the Beatles... huge like Google Earth. The whole "kids in a garage" vibe is thrumming, and I am so there I could just scream: "Alltop! ALLTOP!! AAAALLLLTTTTOOOOPPPPPPP!!!"

Seriously, I'm chuffed, and big thanks to the parties responsible. Damn straight I'm putting the Alltop badge in my sidebar and adding Alltop to the blogroll. Patrick and Gina and Christy are there, and Bobby and just... wow. Alltop.

Wouldn't it would be better if they changed the category from Pets to Animals/Nature/Pets, though? I think it would be better. [runs off to join explore the world of Twitter]

May 17, 2008

Cutest. photos. ever.

All your Awww are belong to us.

A trifecta of cuteness...! Pibble, pug and Frenchie... OMG, smooshy-faces rule. Check them out. And if you can tear yourself away from all the great photos, be sure to read the comments on everyone's behavior. Living with a pack takes work, especially when the pack includes a... well, you'll have to read Stephanie's post for yourself ;~)

Stephanie is an artist and graphic designer and a hard-working volunteer for the pit bull rescue group Our Pack — visit Our Pack's home page here. OMG, look at Chubby — this is such a total bully-breed pose...! In the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix: "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Thanks to Stephanie for the link!

Of crows [and coyotes]

The trickster.

"Klein envisions a new symbiotic relationship between these intelligent birds and the humans that encroach on their habitat. ...Why not turn a longstanding rivalry between man and crow into something that profits both species?"

Why not, indeed? Today, crows — tomorrow, coyotes! Take a flying leap, Acme!

May 16, 2008

The Bluegrass, and the 2008 National Cattledog Finals

Trial of the year, sheepdog trainer/handler Robin French calls the Bluegrass, and I won't argue — I've seen the run order. I dream of heading east some spring to watch those household names [to sheepdog people, anyway] and their terrific dogs.

Robin French of Shoofly Farm [also the name of Robin's blog, with useful posts on training and handling sheepdogs] is running Spottie, Zac and Moss at the Bluegrass this year, and has promised "a full trial report when we get home." Robin writes:
It's the best trial of the year, even if my dogs don't end up totally on their game. Lots of good dog work and it's a real SHEEP trial, where the fresh sheep mostly sort out the dogs, at least on the first round, before they get more dog broke. I love watching this kind of trial, where you get to see so much more of what's really in the dogs and it's less about who handles best. I'll be glued to the sidelines for the first round, that's for sure!
A number of handlers at this year's trial are also talented photographers, and I'll be keeping an eye out for their photos.

In Torrington, Wyoming, the National Cattledog Finals are winding up: final runs for both Open and Nursery are this Saturday, May 17. You can follow the results here. An up-and-down week for my trainer Anna Guthrie, but a miracle her good dog Tick was able to compete after the nightmare a year ago. [I believe Tikkle is eligible for next year's Nurseries as well.]

Good luck to all, and take lots of pictures! [That's Denise Wall's Kate in the photo above — Denise is running Kate in this year's Bluegrass.]

Foie gras returns, non-stick never leaves (your bloodstream)

It's foie gras city. Chicago Tribune photo by Charles Cherney.

What can I say — the stuff's delicious. [It's even possible to produce foie gras without force-feeding the geese [ducks, on this side of the Atlantic] whose fatty livers wind up on the plate, according to farmers in Spain.] In any event, Chicago overturned its two-year ban on foie gras this week, to much gnashing of teeth on both sides of the debate.

"If I had to come back today as an American farm animal destined for the dinner table, I'd choose to be a Moulard duck raised for my fat liver in a heartbeat."

Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman sound off:
Ruhlman: In my opinion, the four farms that grow ducks for foie gras in this country -- especially the largest ones, in New York and California -- they ought to be made examples of by our legislators, not as places of animal torture, but rather as models of humane farming. Unlike factory hogs, which have their tails painfully cut off and never see the light of day before winding up as cheap grocery store pork, the billions of chickens that live packed wing to wing and live in their own ammonia-reeking waste, or the feed-lot antibiotic-laced beef -- if I had to come back today as an American farm animal destined for the dinner table, I'd choose to be a Moulard duck raised for my fat liver in a heartbeat.

Bourdain: Yes, it seems to me that the activists for whom the suffering of animals is unbearable, their lobbying against foie gras is not just bad time management, it's cynical time management.

Billions of chickens, hogs and beef are being harmed -- that's carnage on a far vaster scale -- but big agribusiness is a difficult and powerful target. They don't get much bang for their buck, from a political standpoint. It's much easier to go for the small artisanal farmer with little resources and no lobbying group in D.C.
Read more from Ruhlman and Bourdain here.

And while I'm on the subject of food: how about those chemicals in non-stick cookware, eh? From The Ethicurean:
The study released last week also included some new and disturbing findings about the health effects of PFOA. Residents living near the DuPont plant who had high levels of PFOA in their bloodstreams tended to have lower levels of a protein that helps the body fight off bacteria and viruses. They also had reduced thyroid function. In kids, high levels of PFOA were associated with high cholesterol levels. Researchers fear this could lead to obesity and heart disease risk later in life … as if exposure to the rest of our dysfunctional food system wasn’t bad enough.

These impacts are scary not just because of what they’ve done to the workers and residents studied, but because PFOA appears to be one of the most “persistent” chemicals — chemicals that do not break down into less-harmful compounds over time — that scientists have come across. That means that the impacts they’re seeing now could be just the beginning. Here’s the Globe and Mail again:

In an ironic turn for chemicals that are used to make non-stick products… PFOA [and PFOS, a related chemical] have been found to have an extreme affinity to stick to living things and, once absorbed, are incredibly hard to shed, often taking decades to be excreted. “We’ve never seen them degrade under any relevant environmental conditions,” said Scott Mabury, a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto. “I often say they redefine persistence as we know it.”


It was not until May of 2000, 21 years after it first began testing workers, that 3M announced it was ceasing the use of PFOA. The reason? New tests had found it in the blood of people around the globe, including in places far from manufacturing facilities. Here’s 3M exec Charles Reich in the Washington Post the day after the recall: “The surprise wasn’t that it was in our workers — that’s something we’ve known for some time. It was a complete surprise that it was in the blood bank supplies” of the U.S., Japan, Europe, and China. Double awesome. And by the way, by “awesome,” I mean “mindblowingly terrifying.”

Great-grandmother's cast-iron cookware is starting to look real good.

Colors I love

From the Tribal & Textile Arts Show. Photo by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times.

Volcano Chaitén

Hat tip to Kitsune Noir.

Photo of lightning triggered by the eruption. Unreal.

New rumbling from Chilean volcano worries experts

Recent outcry over the status of pets and stray animals left in Chaitén has prompted a response from legislators

Veterinarians have already been traveling to the region "to rescue hungry, thirsty and scared pets, bringing some of them back to Puerto Montt." The volcanic activity has caused extensive flooding, and now the region is expecting two weeks of rain. Satellite shot from this site:

Where meat comes from

Zumbagua market, Ecuador. Photo by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio.

Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio "sat down to a meal with 30 families in 24 countries, photographing their one-week food intake and talking to them about food, dieting, and shopping habits for their 2005 book Hungry Planet." From the NY Times Freakonomics interview by Annika Mengisen:

Q: On this blog, we talked about the possibility of slaughterhouses breeding violent, even homicidal behavior in people. From what you’ve seen around the world, what’s your take on this?

From Peter: I would argue that this is not the case in developing countries (in people who work in slaughterhouses or in the general population). Meat is valued, prized, and sought after, and there is a lot of respect for animals, along with a complete realization and understanding of where meat comes from.

But in the first world (to a lesser extent in Europe) large commercial slaughterhouses do numb the workers who must perform the same grisly task for endless hours.

I photographed slaughterhouses around the U.S. a number of years ago and saw what goes on. Pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys: an endless deconstruction line. It’s inevitable under those circumstances that workers remove themselves mentally from their physical tasks.

A bigger concern might be the fact that many Americans have no clue where meat comes from: does it grow in these Styrofoam trays?

I do think if you eat meat, you should be aware that you are participating in the death of an animal. How far that awareness goes and whether it influences how much, how often, and what kinds of meat you consume is a responsibility as well.

And from Rebecca King of Ardi Gasna:
I almost forgot the other major activity I've been up to lately--slaughtering and butchering my lambs from last year. I had experience breaking down a lamb carcass from my kitchen days, but the killing and gutting was new. I never would have believed it, but I am actually a gun owner now! My mom gave me a .22 automatic that belonged to her first husband about 50 years ago, and I've used it to put the lambs down quickly before bleeding them. I know some may find it morbid (although they themselves eat meat that someone else kills!), but I've discovered I actually enjoy slaughtering and butchering my own animals. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I was responsible for this animal from its birth until its death. I am also fascinated in the process by which a living thing becomes food that we eat. The lamb has been really delicious as well, some of the best I've ever had. The friends and family I've shared it with seem to agree, too.

May 12, 2008

Father of the year

What kind of spin do you put on this when you're eight years old and someone asks about your dad? [They'll say "real dad" to distinguish him from your stepdad, or stepdads, or foster dad.]

Will you say, "My real dad's in prison"? "He's dead"? How about, "Dad saved my life from a vicious dog and the dog's owner got in a fight with my dad and Dad killed him in self defense but the dead guy's friends told a bunch of lies in court and Dad got locked up"? [That fantasy may fly when you're eight, but by the time you're twelve...? Forget it. Have fun in middle school!]

Sucks hugely to dwell on the knowledge that your dad is 1) the worst kind of loser and 2) not around to actually, you know, be a dad. Screws a kid up something awful. Screws a kid up so badly that I would like to hit the world's crappiest parents over the head with a board. Run home for an actual frikkin' shotgun...? Brilliant move, Pop! I'm sure your kid will appreciate the gesture as he grows up without you, you stupid, stupid, stupid idiot.

P.S. I've seen the pup. Seemed nice and friendly.
Two brothers pleaded not guilty Tuesday in connection with the fatal shooting of a transient after an argument over his dog in a Redlands park.

Peter Soto, who turns 21 today, and Paul Soto, 18, were arraigned in San Bernardino County Superior Court on one count of murder each.

The older brother is charged with firing a shotgun to kill Ricky Dean Davis, 48, on Saturday at Jennie Davis Park. Paul Soto is charged with assaulting him with a knife.

Davis was slain at 1:30 p.m. in the playground area of the park, where homeless men often hang out. It was Redlands' first homicide since August 2006.

Redlands police said the Soto brothers argued with Davis after his dog approached the infant son of one of the men. The brothers walked to their apartment, dropped off the boy and returned with a shotgun, police said.

The brothers thought the dog, a 10-month-old male shepherd mix, got too close to the child, who was in a stroller, police said.

"They had more than enough time to walk away," Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann said. "And, in fact, they did."

The brothers are documented Rialto gang members who recently had moved into an apartment near the park at New York Street and Redlands Boulevard, police spokesman Carl Baker said.

Witnesses saw the brothers sprint the short distance to the apartment, Baker said. They were arrested there three hours later.

Davis' dog was unharmed and taken to the city's animal shelter. On Tuesday, officials said it likely would be picked up by one of Davis' siblings.

And the dog is like, "Just google 'Ubuntu Help Forums.'"

May 11, 2008

The penguin has landed

Seriously, folks, Vista is beautiful. Really. [Are my new glasses playing tricks on me, or does the Linux penguin seem to have little man-breasts?]

Just skip this post unless you are interested in my adventures with KGRUBEditor and dual boots and oops! it should be sudo kate, just let me type that again...

Warning: nothing but geek in this post.

First things first: I love my external hard drive. I love it with all my heart, because without it I'd be a) poorer and/or b) minus every photo and word document I've ever saved on my old [2005] Dell desktop. [Note to self: keep a copy of Contacts on the external hard drive from now on, too, Einstein.]

Ever since I got the new HP laptop [it rocks hugely, by the way] I've been messing with Linux on my desktop PC. For the record, the 64-bit Vista does not play well with others and a dual boot [Vista + the latest Kubuntu] on the laptop is never going to happen. Vista it will remain, with Firefox and Opera as my browsers of choice. On the desktop, though, an XP/Kubuntu dual boot was totally a possibility. And a reality, for a week or so. Just for practice, I started by adding Kubuntu to my machine at work and everything went smoothly, right down to a beautiful custom splash image [Yosemite] and Windows as the default OS for non-geeky subs/visitors.

The dual boot setup at home went well, too, except that something was wrong with GRUB. It wasn't just that I couldn't seem to develop a nice splash image — the entire booting process became erratic and troublesome. BIOS or the boot manager or something appeared to be seriously messed up. If I were an authentic geek instead of a hapless, freshly-hatched noob, solving the problem would have been a snap. Instead, I made it worse.

Since I knew that all the important things [photos, docs] were safe on the external hard drive, I started to experiment. I removed Kubuntu, erased partitions, fooled with QGRUB and KGRUB editors and various hard drive tools, and at one point found myself with two XPs instead of XP and Kubuntu. And at last the poor desktop decided it wasn't going to take any more abuse, and for the first time in my less-than-a-decade with 'puters, a fatal exception occurred: the fabled blue screen of death.

I called a friend who works at a software firm and got the news I expected: things were looking very bad. So I figured, what the hell — I'll give this puppy one last shot.

At some point I had loaded Active@KillDisk on a CD, so I popped it in the tray and told it to wipe the hard drive cleaner than clean. Once that was done [and it took hours: three passes plus] I put the Kubuntu disk in one last time. It reformatted, repartitioned and restored my hard drive with a shiny new operating system, which that same day became even shinier and newer with the installation of KDE 4.0.4.

Am I happy? Very much. [I'm writing this post on my Kubuntu 'puter.] Everything so far seems fast and smooth and efficient. Lots of new stuff to play with. I'm mainly using Firefox, since Opera and KDE butt heads a little bit. As of this moment I would certainly recommend Linux, with the qualification that it presumes a willingness to get a little bit geeky at times. Nothing outrageous, IMHO, but your mileage may vary. And having not one but two computers to play with...? So. much. fun. ;~)))))

May 10, 2008

The 'us' in platypus

The daily cladogram.

Biologist PZ Myers has written a terrific post on the draft of the platypus genome: an important post, since the popular press was so busy playing up the "weird little composite creature" angle that they missed the central point of the study. A comparative analysis of the genomes of multiple organisms, with emphasis on the newly revealed data from the platypus [writes Myers] "reveals unique signatures of evolution." [In fact, that's the paper's title: "Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution."]

From Myers' post:
Over and over again, the newspaper lead is that the platypus is "weird" or "odd" or worse, they imply that the animal is a chimera — "the egg-laying critter is a genetic potpourri — part bird, part reptile and part lactating mammal". No, no, no, a thousand times no; this is the wrong message. The platypus is not part bird, as birds are an independent and (directly) unrelated lineage; you can say it is part reptile, but that is because it is a member of a great reptilian clade that includes prototherians, marsupials, birds, lizards and snakes, dinosaurs, and us eutherian mammals. We can say with equal justification that we are part reptile, too. What's interesting about the platypus is that it belongs to a lineage that separated from ours approximately 166 million years ago, deep in the Mesozoic, and it has independently lost different elements of our last common ancestor, and by comparing bits, we can get a clearer picture of what the Jurassic mammals were like, and what we contemporary mammals have gained and lost genetically over the course of evolution.
Every organism is going to be a mix of conserved, primitive characters and evolutionary novelties — a mouse is just as "weird" as a platypus from an evolutionary perspective, since each is the product of processes that promote divergence from a common ancestor, and each are equidistant from that ancestor. It's just that we primates share more derived characters with a mouse than with a platypus, because we are more closely related, and the mix of characters in the mouse are more familiar to us.

[M]odern echidnas, elephants, and emus are all products of different evolutionary trajectories through history, and no one by itself is a representative of the ancestral condition. We derive the ancestral state by comparison of multiple lineages. And that is the virtue of this paper, that it adds another lineage to the data set, one that diverged from ours over 160 million years ago. It is a lens that helps us see what novelties arose in that 160 million year window … on both the eutherian and monotreme sides.
Read the whole post at PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula.

Look! Something shiny!

I am easily distracted.

Dogs with Cones

That's Bingo, top, and Pogo.

Ugly Overload [you've all been subjected to Cute Overload, yes?]:

That is SO cool. [As always, click for big.]

Another reason I don't keep a gun in the house

Every month is Poetry Month. So there, prose stylists.

In honor of my G-dog, and with a hat tip to the GrrlScientist, here is a poem by some chucklehead's long-suffering good neighbor — namely Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate:

Another Reason I Don't Keep a Gun in the House

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

The natives are restless

Shark 1, seal 0. Photo by Chris and Monique Fallows, via The Telegraph.

Grizzlies, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes, sharks... Do you ever get the feeling it would be safer to stay home? Well, kids, let me disabuse you of that notion: 402 Americans drowned in their bathtubs in 2004; 1,638 died after falls on stairs or steps; 596 suffocated in bed, oy. So go for a swim in the ocean, already. Go for a hike in the mountains. I'll be right here when you get back, because I'm, ah, expecting a call. And then I'm — washing the dogs. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Seriously, sharks don't scare me a bit [and why should they, when I stay as far from the ocean as possible]. More precautions: I don't pick up rattlers, which effectively eliminates the odds of my being bitten by a poisonous snake. Coyotes leave me and my stock alone [knock wood]. Bears and lions, on the other hand, scare. me. to. pieces. PSA: When house-sitting alone at a remote ranch in lion country, do not, under any circumstances, watch The Ghost and the Darkness. OMG, that was like the scariest movie ever.

I live in the 'burbs, and a week or so ago a big mountain lion was killed crossing the freeway about four miles from my house. [Wildlife corridors in this neck of SoCal? Surely you jest.] A coworker saw the lion's body at a local ranger station, waiting to be shipped to a taxidermist [the lion, not my friend]. He said the animal was scarcely marked from the impact, huge -- "seven feet, 180 lb" -- and beautiful. The lion made it safely across the westbound 10 but was killed trying to cross the eastbound lanes: that is, he was traveling from my side of the freeway back to the foothills/forest side. I wonder how much [if anything] last year's fires have to do with this activity. All you big predators stay on the Fawnskin side of the lake this summer, please.

Shark links, because big white sharks are amazing:

Killer was great white shark

Shark research in Northern California's Farallon Islands

From The Devil's Teeth:
According to Scot and Peter, the Queen Annihilator of Surfboards was a shark named Stumpy. Stumpy was nineteen feet long and weighed five thousand pounds, and when she was in residence, she ruled the Farallones. "She was the only shark that I think understood who we were, what we were trying to do," Peter recalled. "And she didn't care for it. When Scot was first putting out the decoys Stumpy would just come up and destroy them, more because she didn't like them than because she was fooled by their silhouettes."


Stumpy patrolled a swath of sea along the east side of the island near the main boat launching spot at East Landing. For prey, this was not an advisable route onto shore. "No seal gets by her," Peter said. And while other sharks would take twenty minutes or more to consume their kills, Stumpy could polish off a five-hundred-pound elephant seal in three minutes flat. Though the distinctively cropped tail fin that earned Stumpy her name hadn't been spotted for several years, Scot and Peter still talked about her with a respect that bordered on awe.
Monterey Bay Aquarium White Shark Research Project [we're not supposed to call them "great whites" -- it's as bad as "sea gulls"]

Apex Predators
[For the two people who may not have seen it: the Apex Predators site has breathtaking photos of great white sharks hunting seals off the South African Coast.]

Coyote and rattlesnake posts in the pipeline.

World Migratory Bird Day

Read more here. [H/T to the most excellent Mike's Birding & Digiscoping Blog.]

Also: be sure to check out the terrific Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, the eBird site and, of course, Audubon.