Archive for April 13th, 2009

Kenneth Miller’s unrelenting attack on creationism

| April 13, 2009 | 15 Replies
Kenneth Miller’s unrelenting attack on creationism

Kenneth Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University. He is also a widely published author (co-author of high school and college biology textbooks used by millions of students). He is also a practicing Roman Catholic who has served as an expert in several court cases concerning creationist school boards that have tried to muzzle classroom science. In his most recent book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, Miller makes an unrelentingly strong case against creationists of all stripes, including those who advocate “intelligent design.”

I did not realize the strength of the scientific case based upon the analysis of the genomes of human beings and other animals. How strong is it? It is at least as strong as the fossil record, arguably much stronger. I already knew a few things about the arguments based on genome analyses. For instance, I had often read that the genomes of chimpanzees and humans were 99% the same (or, at least, 96% the same). I also knew that all animals possessed Hox genes, essentially “toolkits for generating body form.” Miller reminds us that “it is the same kit whether that animal is a honey bee, a fish or an elephant.” The Hox genes prove “deep connections between animal groups.” Miller points out that these similarities are even much more striking than Haeckel’s (admittedly exaggerated) embryonic drawings. In fact, Haeckel “actually understated the evolutionary case each of these embryos possesses the same developmental toolkit, revealing both are common ancestry and the similarity of form and function produced by the workings of the evolutionary process.”

These profound Evo-Devo findings (the combination of development and the study of evolution) show that we “no longer need to make a distinction between the two types of change known as macro evolution and micro evolution. We don’t need to attribute special mechanisms for large-scale changes. Evo-devo “reveals that macro evolution is the product of microevolution writ large.” According to Miller, these should be “chilling words” to the ID crowd.

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Sticker that acts like a credit card

| April 13, 2009 | 2 Replies
Sticker that acts like a credit card

An RFID Microchip, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You can now obtain a sticker that acts as a credit card. That’s right, you read me correctly: you can stick it to your cell phone, wallet, shoe, coffee mug, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Actually, I’ve exaggerated a bit. You can stick the sticker almost everywhere, but the technology is not so new. In fact, the credit-card-sticker has been in use in Japan and Malaysia for some time now. The sticker contains a chip that uses Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to emit a signal. That signal, like the magnetic strip on your average credit card, contains information that allows you to “charge” a purchase.

Sound familiar? You may be using RFID already, in the MobilePass wand that you use at the gas station. The Chicago Transit Authority has been utilizing RFID for years, and the New York Transit Authority is preparing to start a trial. In fact, your very own United States passport may contain RFID technology. So why am I such a scaredy-cat?

I received a replacement credit card today because my account number “may have been illegally obtained as a result of a merchant database compromise and could be at risk for unauthorized use.” I was not informed of the time, place, manner of the “compromise” and if the identity of the “compromisers” or their methods are known, I remain ignorant of them. I’m leery of the credit-card-sticker because where there’s a will, there is a way.

Just Say No! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

History suggests that RFIDs can be remotely read and stolen, cloned, infected, or otherwise used for unintended purposes. Now, Visa is preparing to launch a product that allows you to use your phone as a credit card (and not just in Malaysia). This means that if you’re using the technology and you lose your phone, you may be losing your expensive toy, contacts, pictures, applications, etc. stored on that expensive toy, and control over the use of one or several of your credit card accounts.

Sure, there are ways to encrypt this information, but with every safeguard comes a more determined hacker. I’m going to stick to the inconvenient plastic card because the “authorities” are used to tracking its thieves and (I would not discount this factor) it’s probably less sexy to steal!

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It’s that time of year…

| April 13, 2009 | 14 Replies
It’s that time of year…

Spring on a large university campus means but one thing: crazy evangelicals. Since I attend (arguably) the largest university in the country, I get my fair share of kookery. Most evangelical preachers simply stand on a grassy area and preach, for hours, about the damnation that sinful, depraved college students face. Some gather crowds and screaming voices of dissent, but many are as easily ignored.

But every spring, the evangelical season is rung in by a group so passionate they cannot be ignored: the abortion protesters. They cover the campus in the blight of propaganda- their commitment is clear. This year, I decided to take a few photos of the madness, and string them into a quick youtube slideshow. Check it out, and note the response of the pro-choice counter protesters:

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Buggy Salesmen 2.0

| April 13, 2009 | Reply
Buggy Salesmen 2.0

Do representatives of America’s High-tech workers “get it” or are they stuck in the past?

A recent New York Times story (by Matt Richtel) highlighted some cracks in American attitudes towards immigration. We know the republicans have been against the immigration of “poor and downtrodden” – but apparently there is now significant pressure against the immigration of “smart and innovative”.

The Times’ story was primarily about US immigration, it’s impact on individuals enmeshed in the process, and how it is perceived among some in the tech community. (disclaimer: I am a beneficiary of the H1-B/Green card immigration process, and I’m working towards citizenship)

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Hitchens -v- Christian Radio

| April 13, 2009 | 3 Replies
Hitchens -v- Christian Radio

I often find Christopher Hitchens to be an insufferable ass, and often too abrasive and sure of himself to be enjoyable, but I really enjoyed this takedown.

Hitchens is invited by the host, Todd Friel, of a Christian Radio show to play a version of the Christian ‘What if?” game. This game tries to lead you inexorably from fanciful scenarios based on the presupposition that god exists, to the conclusion that since god exists you should, of course, accept jesus into your life!

Hitchens’ demonstrates the right way to engage with such dishonest tactics – simply play the game on your own terms.

Well done sir!

Hat tip: Pharyngula

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