Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What are you lookin' at?



A candid view into a bizarre ritual?

An experiment with a clipper gone wrong?

No, just a mid-process picture of a haircut in progress that had an eerie look to it. While I have had the temerity to go out in public with no hair at all, I have not gone out in public like this. At least not until publishing this picture, which for all intents and purposes, is like going out in public. Who knows what photos of us lurk in cyberspace?

One of the first principles in security clearance is full disclosure. Admit it all, and no one will have a hold on you. As long as everyone knows, no one can embarrass you into giving up the codes to the football. So here goes: I'm ugly. There you have it. The truth is out, and it has made me free.

Free to part crowds with a black look and a determined pace. Free to stop traffic. Free to scatter panhandlers and prostitutes as I prowl dark city streets.

Now where did I park the damned Batmobile?

 Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mil ojos, mil piernas:

A reader just asked me a question about why eye dominance exists.

A good question, and I have not found an explanation yet. But then, I only looked for five minutes, and thought about it for four.

One possible reason might be that it's really, really, really hard to get eyes to be the same strength, and so one will dominate no matter what (or that humans will come up with a sensitive enough test to tell the difference).

The real question is why would dominance evolve, and what advantage does it confer?

That led me to wonder (out of non-posting guilt) about the crab question again, and then on to a new quandary:

If dominance is a feature of bilateral creatures, does it exist in crabs? Do they have a dominant leg? Or legs? Is it by pairs? What about centipedes (one leg pair per segment), and millipedes (two leg pairs per segment)?

"Oh no! Another set of unanswered questions on the blog!"

While fretting about that, I completely forgot to add this link, which does away with the whole dominance and 3-D vision correlation. You can perceive a 3-D effect with only one eye in what Jim Gasperini did ages ago with two-image GIFs (although it does seem more real with two eyes open).

 Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Urban thirst:

I went to a talk today by Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

He was talking about their outreach program, which you have probably seen if you have travelled through Denver International lately. Just before the TSA clearance area, there is an exhibit covering the fossils that were dug up while DIA was being built - this is one of the paintings there by artist Jan Vriesen:


Kirk had an interesting point about Denver - most of the water for the city is brought there by tunnel from the West side of the continental divide, since Denver is in the rain shadow. However, most of the new developments are not fed by this system, and are drawing up groundwater from fossil aquifers like the Arapahoe.


The development pictured here, Highlands Ranch, is the largest development in the United States. It draws water from the Arapahoe, which it is lowering by 20 feet a year. There are about 600 feet of water in the aquifer. As Kirk put it, 'about one mortgage's worth.' Great long-range planning, eh? This will be a ghost town within our lifetimes.

Kirk has been able to establish nature trails in many of these developments because they are fossil rich - even having large specimens like Triceratops, which make for nice educational walks. As you might imagine, the developers have constantly vetoed any mention of water.

Colorado has been very wet in its past - much of Kirk and Jan's work together has been to produce a set of paintings that depict the Denver area through time. Here it is about 300 million years ago, during the (eerie) Pennsylvanian:


And here it is 85 million years ago, during the Cretaceous, when it was part of a vast inland sea:


You can see more of Jan's work at the Ancient Colorado exhibit at the Colorado Convention Center. These slides are up for a brief period as Mac Slides - if you have a .Mac subscription, you can view them as a screen saver if you subscribe to my public slide show.

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 Monday, May 01, 2006

Seeds from Isla Sorna:

Today's quandary -

E-mail from a highly respected medical center that wants to start a project on protein/peptide sequencing of various samples, all from previously unsequenced species. All results would be compared with the publicly available sequences to determine the relatedness to what has already been done (several hundred species), and then contributed to this same dataset so that other groups doing this sort of thing can compare with these sequences (building a library).

The catch? The samples are from a dinosaur. A T. Rex. You know, the fellow from Jurassic Park.

As I have posted before, the organic material is there in their thighbones - yes, somewhat degraded, but it is there. Note that this is not genetic sequencing - we are one level of abstraction away from the dino-DNA since these are proteins. However, this will be good enough to give a numerical level of confidence in saying T. Rex is more like a chicken than a crocodile (or otherwise).

So, readers, do I start the ball rolling on this, eventually leading to the destruction of downtown San Diego by a rampaging dinosaur?

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