Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Well, shit, that was not what I intended.

Hey folks. Despite some of your wishing, I still draw breath and have no intentions of stopping my blogging. This is, of course, despite the recent unannounced hiatus which kept me from posting on Monday and Tuesday. I apologize for that but, hey, when the going get's tough, the tough often have to stop blogging in order to get everything done.

This hiatus is, however, good practice for something else: an imminent, even-longer hiatus. Yes, folks, I am going to be leaving town and will have intermittent, at best, internet access during that period. This means that I will be unable to update the blog until my return. As always, I'm sure that Slag and the TDEC will do their best but, as I believe they are about to begin their marital bliss, I suspect they will have better things to do with their time.

So, I will do my best to round up a skilled team of guest bloggers to keep you entertained in my absence. And when that fails, I'll probably just try to post from the road whenever possible.

In the meantime, I hope for actual posts tomorrow and the day after, to at least finish out the week in style. And of course, as I have promised with any luck one should focus largely on breasts. Won't that be fun?

And in the meantime, please enjoy this comic from the delightful folks at Krakow Studios. This is more or less a story that has a strong resemblance to something from Slag's past.

Ignore him if he denies it- he's a goddamn liar.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No, no, the cart goes before the horse.

Back in the dark days of yore* when I was but a wee student in high school I was presented with a rather unusual assignment. And no, for those of you who have heard the tale, I am not about to recount that time when I ate a mealworm for extra credit. No, this assignment was given to in-class groups by a rather unconventional english teacher and went as follows (roughly):

One day during an otherwise-normal day at school a group of alien ships appeared in the sky overhead. They proceeded to teleport all the students in your academic year aboard with only the items in your laps and the clothes on your back. They then carried you all to a distant Earth-like but uninhabited planet and deposited you on its surface, only with those items mentioned earlier. They then explained that they were representatives of a galactic federation and this was a test of mankind's fitness to join. You have been given ten years to construct a society and, at the end of those ten years, the aliens will return and judge the results. If the results are judged favorably, Earth will be welcomed into the galatic community and you will return home in triumph. If the results are judged unfavorably, you will return in disgrace and humans will be prevented from leaving their own solar system for at least the next 1,000 years.


This was, to put it mildly, an unexpected task for an English class. It was also right up my alley, seeing as how I was, even then, a long-time science fiction fan. It was thus with great pleasure that I joined with my group to produce a brave new world. Therefore, when the first argument was made for our new society, my despair was all the more acute. One of my well-meaning but (let's be honest) foolish group members asserted with unshakable conviction, "The first thing we need to do is make laws to protect the environment!"

"What? We need to do what first? Make laws to protect the environment?" I responded, "There are only a few hundred of us. If we made it our main goal for the next ten years, there aren't enough of us to do appreciable harm to a planetary environment! Don't you think we should concentrate our attention on something more immediate? Like obtaining food, water, shelter, and arranging an equitable distribution of same?"**


The answer, as you might guess, was "no." Apparently protecting the environment was more important than ensuring that we survived at something above starvation level. In retrospect I suppose this might have been a cunning plan to protect the environment by ensuring the extinction of homo sapiens sapiens on this world before we could cause harm, but I think that's being too generous. In truth, I think this person was just so immensely foolish, despite her good intentions, that she overlooked the practical dilemma inherent in her lofty objectives. This is, to be honest, a problem I've noticed since then in academia, but I digress.

This incident was very disappointing to me at the time, and has always stood out in my mind as an example of missing the obvious problems in your haste to do "the right thing." As such, it's been on my mind rather a lot lately. Recently my Sainted Girlfriend recounted a story of a trip taken with some members of her church youth group. On this trip one of her friends commented that it would be great if auto manufacturers were to add devices to cars that could harvest the energy from the outside airflow and use it to charge a battery. This "innovation" would make the care more environmentally friendly by converting it into a hybrid electric vehicle.

Now, some of you already know where I'm going with this because... well... you know me. In short, my first thought was that someone had independently replicated the work of inventor extraordinaire, and obvious lunatic, Greg Buell.*** Specifcally, this was an independent replication of his revolutionary electric windmill car. Below is an artist's concept that I have blatantly stolen from the Greg Buell Fan Club:



Having thusly recognized Greg's priority in this venture, I then proceeded to the next logical step which is, put simply, to point out that actually building such a vehicle would be a really bad idea. I've explained why this is before but, as there are apparently a large number of people who still don't get it, we're going to do this again. Here's why putting a windmill, or wind turbine, or whatever you want to call it on a car is not a sure route to environmentally-friendly land.

Okay, let's start with something simple: like a regular windmill used for the generation of electrical power. Now, in this case, the motion of the blades drives a generator which produces electricity. This is simple, so let's make it a little more complex: where does the energy come from to drive the blades? I mean, the blades don't turn themselves, right? Well, it's called a windmill, so I'm hoping the answer is pretty obvious here. The motion of the wind drives the blades around, which drives the turbine and generates electricity. Perhaps more important for our purposes, a certain amount of energy is transferred from the moving air we know as "wind" to the stationary windmill and thus the wind slows down slightly**** as the blades are accelerated. This process is fairly well covered by a little something known as thermodynamics. Taken a step further, let me ask where does the wind get its energy from? The answer, of course, is our old friend, that gigantic fusion reactor in the sky: the sun. The heat of the sun adds energy to the Earth which, due to differential rates of heating and cooling in different materials, and the rotation of the Earth, produces currents of air that we know as wind. So, ultimately, a windmill is just an oblique way of harvesting solar energy. Everyone with me?

Okay, now let's consider our "electric windmill car." Now, when a car is moving is there airflow over it? The answer, of course, is yes: because the car is moving through an atmosphere, that atmosphere is flowing over it. To the car's occupants, who are stationary with reference to the car, it may seem like there is a strong wind blowing outside. However, from an external frame of reference (say a pedestrian) it is not the air that is moving rapidly, but rather the car moving quickly through a stationary mass of air. Now, given this, we need to ask the same questions about our car-mounted windmill that we asked about our stationary windmill. What drives the blades? Well, the same thing: moving air. In this case, however, it isn't the air that is moving, but rather the windmill itself. The situations are, at this level, equivalent. But let's back it up a smidge. Where does the windmill get its energy from? Well, since the air isn't moving, it effectively means that the windmill on our car cannot be harvesting energy from the air. So, if the energy isn't coming from the air, where is it coming from?

Well?

Right- it's coming from the moving car. The windmill, rather than converting the kinetic energy of the wind into electrical energy is converting the kinetic energy of the car into electrical energy. And, just as the stationary windmill slows the wind, the windmill on the car must slow the car down. Let me emphasize that again: if there is a mechanism extracting energy from the airflow, it must result in a slowing of the vehicle. Everyone still with me? Okay, now here's the kicker: where does the car's kinetic energy come from? Well, in the case of our stationary windmill it came from a clean, renewable source: the sun. In this case, however, cars do not move at high speeds because of the sun, but rather because they burn fossil fuels. What this all means is that, put simply, the energy that the windmill recovers from the airstream was, originally, generated by burning irreplaceable and polluting fuels. More importantly since we aren't just accelerating the windmill, but also the car it's mounted on, we must spend more energy in the form of gas than we recover from the windmill in the form of electricity even if every part of the system is 100% efficient. Since no mechanical system is 100% efficient (due to a little thing called "friction") what this boils down to is that any car with such a windmill will burn more fuel than an identical car without one, and the energy we recover from said windmill will not offset the extra fuel consumed. Putting such a device on a car would make it less environmentally friendly, rather than more.*****

What this all means is simple: something that sounds like a really good idea- using a wind turbine to harvest energy from the wind outside a car- ultimately may result in exactly the opposite of what is intended. In a very real way we would make things worse by persuing such a course of action.

And this takes us back to the beginning of this post: we all have lofty goals that we would like to achieve. I, like many others, would like to see our natural environment preserved, and our resources used responsibly. What that requires, however, is not a mass of good intentions and activism, but a thorough understanding of the world- a comprehension of our options as well as our constraints- and cool consideration of how best to get what we want. This may be a little less satisfying on a visceral level, but it has the compensatoy benefit of actually allowing us to achieve our goals. For me, that more than offsets the drawbacks of careful thought. Preserve those good intentions, husband those lofty goals, but temper them with reason and pragmatism.

Because otherwise, you may end up with exactly the opposite of what you want.


For those who are curious, and as we've discussed previously, pure electric cars are also worse for the environment than their gas-drinking cousins.

* As a side note: google images produces a rather hilarious set of returns when you use "Days of Yore" as the search term. In one or another case they entirely defy explanation.

** Yes, I really did talk like this from time to time. As you might guess, I didn't have a lot of sex in high school.

*** Please note that this is an entirely different Greg Buell.

**** As another side note: before you advocate mass production of windmills to meet our energy needs, maybe consider the potential effects on weather that a large-scale reduction in global airflow might have.

***** This is not the case with regenerative braking which harvests energy as electricity that would otherwise be lost to us as heat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

From the Ramparts

Many of you will probably remember a while back when I posted news of an attempt to eliminate funding for the social sciences from the NSF's budget. Shortly thereafter I attempted to explain why the Republican party might be trying to curtail social science spending. These posts provoked some rather interesting comments, and even some fun e-mails from people I've not been in contact with before.

Since then matters have evolved considerably. The ASA was nice enough to post an update on the situation that most of us will find pretty reassuring. It reads as follows:

Latest update: 5/18/06, 11:20am - Prior to full committee markup (scheduled for later this afternoon) of S. 2802, Sen. Hutchison and Sen. Lautenberg agreed to compromise language in the bill that restores a rightful place for behavioral and social sciences within NSF's portfolio. The science community can hold calls to Senators now (see background below).


This is, of course, good news. More recently however, alert reader Tina was nice enough to forward along an analysis of the situation written by someone who is in a position to have a pretty good handle on things. It provides more detail on what has happened, and what is going to happen, and so I think it worth discussing. Now, this message was sent out semi-publicly and I won't attribute it to anyone in particular so I feel pretty okay about posting it, but I will remove it if the author requests.

The compromise language in the bill allows NSF to continue to fund what it has been funding all along, and that will be what happens because NSF's charter mandates that course. I have not investigated the following yet, but I suspect there is federal code that would prevent the rescinding of grants without involvement of the federal courts. The key text that protects sociology in the Section 307 compromise are the following two phrases:

(b) PRIORITY TREATMENT. Proposed research activities, and grants funded under the Foundation's Research and Related Activities Account, which can be expected to make contributions in physical and natural sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and other research that underpins these areas, or that enhances competitiveness or innovation in the United States, shall be given priority in the selection of awards and in the allocation of Foundation resources.

(c) APPLICATION OF PRIORITY TREATMENT TO OTHER PROGRAMS. This requirement shall be applied to other fellowship, grant or award programs authorized in this title.

(d) LIMITATION. Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict or bias the grant selection process against funding other areas of research deemed by the Foundation to be consistent with its mandate, nor to change the core mission of the Foundation.

There is no guarantee that Hutchison won't try to cause some trouble during the FY 2007 appropriations negotiations process between now and the fall, but it seems unlikely for various reasons: (1) She has now suffered a defeat relative to her interest in getting some (not all) social science out of NSF; (2) She likely would want to spend her limited political capital and time trying to do something positive like getting increased funding for NASA, which is under the same committee's jurisdiction; (3) An omnibus funding bill, which won't allow opportunity for negotiating over single grants, is the likely route Congress will be forced to take this year (like last year) and it will be a highly contentious process; (It's probable that numerous Continuing Resolutions will be needed to keep the federal govt hobbling along till that massive funding bill is passed late in the year); and (4) Hutchison was apparently standing alone in her pursuit to change NSF's mission to omit the social and behavioral sciences.


So, based on this we have limited cause for optimism. On the one hand, our protection right now is primarily political expediency, which isn't terribly reliable. On the other hand, it looks like this effort wasn't broadly popular to begin with. That said, I still think that we should take a real lesson from this about the need to present a case for Sociology. I doubt many politicians would have been so eager to challenge, say, physics in quite this way. Certainly Congress decided not to fund the SSC but there have been no moves to eliminate basic physical science. Biology has been having a harder time, fending off the inanity of intelligent design, as well as trying to convince the religious right that "stem cells are good," but for the most part biomedical research is riding high in the saddle. What both these sciences have that we often lack is a public appreciation of their worth.

I'm not saying we all need to become showmen, and I'm not even saying we need to leave the ivory tower, but can we at least try communicating with those outside of it? The result, I think, will be worth the cost.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The other shoe drops.

Today was going to be a "good" blogging day. I have most of a lengthy post written that discusses physics, good intentions, and practicality. It also includes a plethora of links to things that are both informative and amusing. I was planning on finishing it this morning... but then the transmission in my car decided to go bad. So, I got to spend what would have been blogging time discussing transmissions with a large man named Mike who, despite the relative differences in our educational levels, is now making more money than I will ever see in my natural life. This certainly could be used to construct an argument about our relative intelligence levels that I would not, personally, find at all flattering.

In any case, once more, I am behind. So, instead of a post with decent analysis, you instead get a source of petty amusement. A long time ago I mentioned a rather amusing set of flash animations at the site Madness Combat. Recently, the site has been under renovation and so the animations have been inaccessible (though most are mirrored elsewhere). That said, I've become aware of something even better: Madness Combat the Flash Game. Seriously, you can find it right here. What's the point? Well, put simply, to live as long as possible while fending off a truly ridiculous number of opponents. Is it fun? Oh yes. Is it easy? Oh, hell no. It is in fact quite difficult. So, if you're looking to kill some time, and feel disappointed that I'm not helping much in that, have no fear. Plenty of time-suckage is available elsewhere.

And check back tomorrow- hopefully by then shit will stop breaking loose around here.

UPDATE: Got a call from the mechanic regarding the diagnosis of my vehicle. To put it succinctly, if I were any more fucked, you could call me Paris Hilton.

Hey, how's that for an inappropriate metaphor? I'd assure you that I'm really much nicer in person, but I'd be lying. I am not having a good day.

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's good to know what my readers find interesting.

Recently, one of my loyal readers was nice enough to forward an interesting tidbit of news along to me. Okay, let me rephrase that. One of my usual readers was bored enough to forward a news blurb to me for reasons that are nearly beyond comprehension. In any case, because I'm running behind and it may set the stage for another post later in the week,* I reproduce this blurb in its entirety below.

From the National Post of Vancouver from Saturday, April 29, 2006:

Bra producers have been forced to offer bigger cup sizes in China because improved nutrition is busting all previous chest-measurement records. "It's so different from the past when most young women would wear A- or B-cup bras," Triumph brand saleswoman Zhang Jing told the Shanghai Daily from the Landmark Plaza of China's commercial hub. "You never expect those thin women to have such nice figures if they are not plastic." The report, seen on the daily's Web site, said the Hong Kong-based lingerie firm Embry Group no longer produces A-cups for larger chest circumferences and has increased its production of C-, D- and E-cup bras to meet pressing demand. [Emphasis in original]


Lest you think this is a joke, there are corroborating (sort of) online sources:



...

Taiwanese underwear brand Ordifen is another to act quickly.

Feng Wei, an official with the Ordifen's design, development and research department, said the company began making more C-cup products last year based on sales feedback and an internal survey.

"We make and sell products differently in various areas based on data collected in those places," said Feng. "For a time we only made A and B-cup bras for many categories of products but now C-cups have become a major focus especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing."

While there are no numbers to prove breast are growing quicker in large cities than underdeveloped areas, many salespeople say they have noticed that trend.

As sales of larger bras are busting out, Embry opened special counters for its bigger-cup bras under the sub-brand Comfort in February and is planning to set more of such outlets around the nation.

The Beijing Institute of Clothing Technology released a report last week saying the average chest circumference of Chinese woman has hit 83.53 centimeters, up nearly 1cm from the early 1990s. The growth trend is credited to women eating more nutritiously and taking part in more sports.


I find it fascinating that there is a "Beijing Institute of Clothing Technology," and that, as it happens, it's decided to devote research money to breast size questions. I also find it interesting that this news is, well, news.

As for why I'm commenting on it... eh. It's sort of amusing, and may have interesting sociological implications. Besides, as we all know, I live for the excuse to blog about breasts.

And how is this related to blogging later in the week? Well, just wait and see.

* Okay, I'll come clean. I also just figured that the FHR might find this information quite interesting.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A trip around the world


Yesterday I attended a school show in my niece and nephew's primary school. The theme of said show was, you guessed correctly, A trip around the world. The topic was entirely appropriate from both an educational and a social perpective, since the school is a mix of Belgian, north and central African, Turkish and Middle Eastern children.

However.

This is the list of countries places they dealt with:
- The U.S. (cowboys. McDonalds)
- Morocco (bellydancing)
- Africa (grass skirts)
- Belgium (chips and beer. and grass)
- Hawai'i (spelt "Hawai" - music from Lilo & Stitch, act based on a viewing thereof)
- Turkey (Tarkan*! and more belly-ish dancing)
- Iran (random song and dancing)
- Spain (bull fighting and stupid beach music)
- Portugal (Nelly Furtado song in Portugese)

This list may prompt any of the following questions:
- Isn't Morocco part of Africa?
- Isn't Hawai'i spelt like that, or even Hawaii?
- For that matter, isn't it part of the US?
- Isn't Nelly Furtado Canadian? Is she not, in fact, from lovely Victoria? Sure, of Portugese descent, but still; one does wonder if there is no Portugese music one could have used.
- What the hell happened to Asia and South America??

Maybe I should not be so critical of the efforts of a group of 3 to 12-year-olds. Maybe I should take into account the fact that for many people, Lilo & Stitch*** is all they know of Hawai'i. Maybe I should stop being so precise about geography and so picky about stereotypes. But I can't help finding it disappointing that in such a multicultural environment and with such motivated and obviously inventive teachers no one made any effort to dispel stereotypes or to be accurate, even about countries the kids know well.

Mind you, it was pretty funny.

*while browsing for a soundclip** I just found out he is GAY. The most popular Turkish artist for the last million years, universally adored (supposedly, and excepting the TDEC) and he is gay. We should have known; but the camp was well-camouflaged by the sheer volume of women.
**check out Simarik, the song in question, here. Regardless of what else you think of it, you have to admit that it is terribly, terribly catchy.
***btw, if you haven't seen it, do. Very very funny. Elvis. Aliens. What more could you possibly want?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Not quite like watching paint dry, but...

Those of you who read this blog regularly probably realize that I am something of a space nut. I think that our development of, and expansion into, space is a necessary step for our species. This isn't just because I think we need to spread out a little so that one big old rock can't wipe us all out, but also because I think our future power requirements can only be met using spaceborne technologies. Some of you might read this and say I'm a dreamer, but since most people read my blog and say I'm an asshole, I regard that a step up.

In any case, like many others, including my esteemed co-blogger Slag, I watch developments in space exploration and travel with keen interest. Sadly, given the Bush administration's half-assed approach to NASA this has been a rather distressing practice for the last few years but there have been some bright spots. One bright spot in particular were the recent successful flights of Burt Rutan's Spaceship One. All I'm going to say about that right now is: excellent spacecraft, but really creepy mutton chops.

More recently, however, a new opportunity has emerged for people like you and me to contribute directly to space science. How is this, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. Some folks here may be familiar with "SETI@Home" which is the distributed computing project that assists with the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. Basically, SETI scans the sky, records a whole lot of data from radio telescopes, and then analyzes that data for artificial signals. The idea is simple: if we can identify a source of artificial electromagnetic radiation from outside our solar system, we know that there is another intelligent technological species somewhere beyond Earth. That would be, to use technical jargon, really f-ing cool. Now, since there's an awful lot of data to sift through the choke point ends up being analysis. So, to evade this glitch, the SETI team developed a distributed computation solution. In essence, packets of the data are sent via the internet to volunteers, who allow their computers to process that data during idle periods, and then send it back. Think of it like a screen saver- if your computer is turned on and not busy, why not let it do some good for science? This solution has been tremendously effective in processing truly epic amounts of data in a relatively short period of time.

This idea has now been taken one step further. Some of you may remember the probe mission named Stardust that was dispatched to take samples of cometary halos and interstallar dust. This mission recently swung by the Earth and dropped off a sample-return capsule in which its aerogel collectors were safely packaged. This mission has so far been a total success, but much work remains to be done. Specifically, while scientists are having an easy time identifying cometary particles in the aerogel, the particles of interstellar dust have proven to be much harder to find. The only solution that they've been able to arrive at is a manual search with microscopes. Unfortunately, this will take a really loooong time. So, once more, the power of the internet is coming to the rescue. The project team has organized Stardust@home as an effort to use the distributed intelligence of the world to process these data. The idea is simple: you donate a little of your time, evaluate sets of movies, and log any suspected particle tracks you see. Collectively, and over time, these reports give project scientists likely candidates for the actual particles they're looking for.

Exciting? Probably not. Your chances of finding a particle are small, and the experinece of looking will likely not be all that thrilling. At the same time, however, this is a way of contributing to a larger scientific endeavour.

And who doesn't want to do that?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Those crazy kids at STATA Stata.

While working with the fabulous statistical package STATA* Stata* yesterday I ran into something that gave me a laugh. Please forgive me for reproducing a section of the help documentation:

help simulate

------------------------------------------------------------------------
help for simulate manual: [R] simulate
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monte Carlo simulation

simulate "command" exp_list , reps(#) [ dots saving(filename) double every(#) replace nocheck noisily trace ]


Description

simulate eases the programming task of performing Monte Carlo type simulations. Typing "simulate "command" exp_list , reps(#)" runs command for # replications and collects the results in exp_list.

command defines the command that performs a single simulation. command must be bound in double quotes. Compound double quotes (`" and "') are needed if the command itself contains double quotes. Most Stata commands and user-written programs can be used with simulate.

exp_list specifies the expressions to be calculated after the execution of command. The expressions in exp_list follow the grammar given in help exp_list.


Options

reps(#) is not optional -- it specifies the number of replications to be performed.

dots requests a dot be placed on the screen at the beginning of each replication, thus providing entertainment when a large number of reps() are requested. [emphasis added]


Well, it's nice to know they're including options for the sheer entertainment value of it. I actually find this little tidbit to be very reassuring- if a stats package is programmed by folks with a sense of humor, I'm oddly more willing to trust it. As opposed to SAS, which was programmed by some other sort of people.

Still, I like to think I have better things to do than watch a bunch of dots...

* There has been some debate over on Jeremy's blog about whether or not it should be written STATA or Stata. I have generally spelled it in all caps, but Jeremy is rather insistent that, as it is not an acronym, it should be spelled "Stata." I'm really pretty open on the subject and like to compromise so I propose we use the spelling supplied by Stata itself when STATA opens. I refer, of course, to the fine ASCII graphics that display on startup. Based on this standard, Jeremy and I should be spelling it: STaTa. Now that is 1337!

UPDATE: In the comments to this post, Jeremy proceeded to whup my ass on this issue, so the correct spelling I now concede to be "Stata." The post has been changed (Sort of) to reflect such.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I wouldn't call it 'normal' exactly, but...

Longtime readers of this blog know that I grew up in the great state of Florida. This means that I have had some fairly unusual experiences, mostly centering on swamps, and the various forms of death that can strike at any moment throughout an otherwise-normal day. These include, but are not limited to, freshwater snakes, coastal snakes, lightning (which, believe it or not, is so common in Florida that we're considered part of lightning alley since we have more strikes than anywhere else in the United States), mosquitos which carry life-threatening diseases, and tourists who forget how to drive.

Now, while it may seem that Florida is a dangerous place, really it generally isn't. Like anywhere you just learn what the risks are, and take steps to manage them. So, while our snakes might be scary to someone from Maine, I personally find their freezing blizzards a little intimidating. It all evens out. Unfortunately, however, right at the moment our most well-known source of mortal peril is receiving a lot of attention. I refer, of course, to the alligator, a carnivorous reptile that has reached recorded sizes in excess of nineteen feet (5.8 meters) (although not over seventeen feet (5.3 meters) in Florida). Now, I've mentioned gators before on the blog and I insisted then that they tend not to be very dangerous. This is essentially true. Gators are, like many reptiles, not the most active creatures you've ever seen. They prefer to lie around in the sun, or float in the water, and sleep when possible. They're also primarily nocturnal and thus are most active when humans are least active. All of this means that gators tend to be fairly decent neighbors.

Most of the time.

Sadly, in the last month or so, this hasn't been the case. As reported in the New York Times there have been three fatal alligator attacks in the last month. In all three cases women have been attacked- in one instance while swimming in shallow water and, in another instance, while jogging. All three attacks were fatal, which tends to be the case with gator attacks. I, of course, sympathize with the families of these three women. There are many ways to die, but being killed by an alligator is not among the good ways.

It's important to note, however, that alligators are not by and large any more aggressive than other large predators. Since the 1970's there have been around twenty fatal alligator attacks. By comparison to something as rare as a shark attack, alligator attacks are extremely uncommon. As you can see most have occurred in the last decade or so, and all have taken place in Florida. What does this suggest? Well, among other things, it suggests that the rapid population growth experienced in Florida, a trend that has only accelerated in recent years, is bringing more alligators and humans into contact that before. Perhaps more importantly, many of these new contacts are between old gators, and immigrants from other parts of the United States where gators are unknown. Therefore, the proper way to handle a gator is also unknown. Certainly this was the case with two year old Alexandria Murphy, who was killed in 2001 only months after her family relocated to Florida.

So, as a sort of weird public service, let's talk about gators.

-First, as I said above, gators are large predators. They are generally not interested in hurting people and so the sight of a gator should not cause panic. However, there are exceptions to every rule, so it helps to remain wary.

-Gators tend to become most aggressive around breeding season. Males become territorial and will fight other males, females build nests and protect them. During early summer, any encounter with a large gator should be cut short. If you find yourself in a gator nest (a large mound of reeds/grass and mud) leave immediately.

-Unlike mountain lions and, to a lesser extent, bears, making yourself look bigger will NOT deter an alligator. Gators will attack, kill, and eat cows, so size is not really all that impressive to them. However, as reptiles alligators do not need to eat often, so most of the time a gator you encounter has no more interest in eating you than you do in eating a chair.

-If you are on land, even back somewhat from shore, you are not safe. Alligators can walk on land and are capable of short sprints that exceed speeds of thirty miles an hour. If you believe a gator is behaving suspiciously, give it a wide berth.

-Keep in mind that alligators are very well concealed. Keep a close eye on things resembling logs floating low in the water. This is particularly true if the "log" is near shore. Alligators commonly lurk in shallow water, wait for an animal to come down to drink, and then attack.

-If you are being chased by a gator do NOT run in a straight line. The gator can outrun you. It cannot, however, turn quickly at that speed, so run in a zig-zag pattern.

-Climbing a tree will not work. Gators can jump considerable distances into the air. Your best bet is to get inside a structure or vehicle where the alligator cannot, or will not, follow.

-Some foolhardy people may tell you to grab a gator's jaws and hold them shut as the gator is too weak to reopen them. This is true, but a bad idea. Alligators are incredibly powerful and have a wide variety of ways to deal with you even if you succeed in holding their jaws shut. All you will succeed in doing is pissing it off.

-If you have reason to believe that a large alligator is in your neighborhood (a particularly good indication is a sudden increase in the number of dogs/cats that are disappearing) report it to the proper authorities.

Well, this has been fun and educational. If you have any other questions about gators... call the park service.

Monday, May 15, 2006

From the Office: Say What? Edition

The Scene: Drek, the Former Hypothetical Roommate (FHR), and Drek's Sainted Girlfriend (SGF) are in Drek's office grading. Drek's SGF has just returned from letting a colleague into an office so that the colleague could get some supplies. Drek's SGF is not, technically, supposed to do this.

SGF: Well, I just did my good deed for the day.

Drek: You mean B & E?

SGF: Huh?

Drek: B & E. You know... breaking and entering?

SGF: Oh! Yeah. Kinda.

FHR: Jesus. What's wrong with me? All I could think was, "Barium Enema."

Drek: Seriously, that's going in the blog.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why am I not surprised?

In lieu of an actual post, today I'm just going to reproduce an article in its entirety:

Senate Panel Chair Asks Why NSF Funds Social Sciences
Jeffrey Mervis

Why is the National Science Foundation (NSF) funding a study of a women's cooperative in Bangladesh? Why are U.S. taxpayers footing the bill for efforts to understand Hungary's emerging democracy? And why are social scientists even bothering to compile an archive of state legislatures in a long-gone era when those legislators chose U.S. senators?

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), chair of a panel that oversees NSF and a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, put those and other sharply worded questions to NSF Director Arden Bement last week during an unusually combative hearing on the agency's 2007 budget request. Hutchison signaled that she will be taking a hard look at NSF's $200-million-a-year social and behavioral sciences portfolio, which funds some 52% of all social science research done by U.S. academics and some 90% of the work by political scientists. Hutchison made it clear during the 2 May hearing that she doesn't think the social sciences should benefit from President George W. Bush's proposal for a 10-year doubling of NSF's budget as part of his American Competitiveness Initiative (Science, 17 February, p. 929). And she suggested afterward to Science that she's open to more drastic measures.

"I'm trying to decide whether it would be better to put political science and some other fields into another [government] department," she said. "I want NSF to be our premier agency for basic research in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. And when we are looking at scarce resources, I think NSF should stay focused on the hard sciences."
Last week's hearing was not the first time Hutchison has taken a shot at NSF's support of the social sciences. In a 30 September 2005 speech honoring the winners of the annual Lasker medical research awards, she backed a doubling of NSF's budget but added that social science research "is not where we should be directing [NSF] resources at this time." Hutchison tipped her hand a few months before the hearing by asking NSF officials for abstracts of grants funded by the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) going back several years. But the harshness of last week's attack caught the community by surprise, leaving social scientists and their supporters scratching their heads about how best to respond.

"In some ways, it's SBE that tackles the most challenging scientific questions, because its research investigates people's behavior and touches on the most sensitive issues in our society," noted Neal Lane, a physicist and former NSF director now at Rice University in Houston, Texas. "So I'm not surprised that it's been hard to articulate how it connects to innovation and improving the nation's competitiveness." Aletha Huston, a developmental psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who wrote a letter to Hutchison before the hearing defending NSF-funded work by herself and colleagues at UT's Population Research Center, points out that "if you want to understand how to remain competitive, you need to look at more than technology, … at the organizational and human issues that play a role."

Hutchison says she hasn't decided how to translate her concerns into legislation. One option would be to limit spending for the social sciences in the upcoming 2007 appropriations bill for NSF. Another approach would be to curtail the scope of NSF's portfolio in legislation enacting the president's competitiveness initiative or reauthorizing NSF's programs.

In the meantime, says sociologist Mark Hayward, who heads the UT population center, it would be a mistake for social scientists to ignore her concerns. "We have to be persistent and consistent in our message," says Hayward, who along with Huston hasn't heard back from Hutchison. "We can't just say, 'My goodness, she's not paying attention.' "


And people say we don't need public sociology. Folks, if we don't convince the public that sociology contributes something vital to their world, we're going to be in a world of hurt.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I will grant: this is a little disturbing.

Some of you may remember a while back when I wrote a post about Republican congressional candidate and utter freak Tony Zirkle. At the time I commented that it was good that he was free to run, even if his position on punishing "pornographers" is a little unconventional. Please note that Zirkle did, in fact, propose using the guillotine for public executions. I can't really explain why he thought this would be a good idea, save to comment that perhaps he's spent too much time at particular sites on the old internets.

Well, to my great surprise, it appears that the voters in Zirkle's state don't find him quite as crazy as I do. As it turns out, he's almost competetive:

The race for Indiana's Second District Congressional seat is decided and it's a rematch from two years ago.

On the Republican side, with 86% of the precincts reporting late Tuesday night, Incumbent Chris Chocola has 70% of the vote.

Perhaps surprisingly, his outspoken opponent Tony Zirkle has claimed 30%


This is, believe it or not, double what Zirkle received in 2004 when he attempted the same thing. So, it appears that freakishness is gaining in popularity. It's possible, of course, that this is less about Zirkle and more about the unpopularity of his opponent, and we can all understand not wanting to be represented by a cartoon mascot, but I'm still a little bewildered.

Given all this, I think we can only imagine what might happen if the ASA elections were held in Indiana.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The news from Belgium

Twenty Belgian churches are currently being occupied by illegal immigrants who are desperately fighting their imminent deportation.

Read this extremely hostile version of the story; it was the only English language version I could find, and in a way it makes the idea clearer. You see, rather surprisingly, it looks like the Belgian catholic church will come down on the side of the immigrants. The papal nuntius declared that the Church will, as it has always done (has it?) supports the weakest members of our society, though it will not actively broker a political deal.

I am not sure what should happen to the (mostly muslim) occupants of the churches, but either way this is certainly a refreshing breeze in the old Church. My. They'll be feeding them rolls with chocolate spread before you know it.

Fuck!

Fuck! Jesus titty-fucking Christ! AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! Goddamnit! Couldn't you have at least warned me?! Un-fucking-real!

If this gets any more ridiculous, I'm gonna end up in a Greek fucking TRAGEDY, which is a problem for me because I'm not really attracted to my own mother.

Does this post seem incoherent? Well, that's because it is. If you're in my department you can probably figure out what spurred this particular outburst. For the rest of you it will just have to remain shrouded in mystery.

More meaty (sort of) post to come.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

From the Office

The setting: One of my officemates' advisors has just completed a meeting and departed. The three of us (myself and two of my officemates) are sitting at our desks:

Officemate #1: So that was a good dose of mentoring?

Officemate #2: Are... are you making a statement, or asking a question?

Officemate #1: I wasn't really listening, but your meeting sounded pretty good.

Drek: He wasn't listening, but I'm curious about the question. I don't know what that's supposed to look like. Y'know.. mentoring.

Officemate #2: laughs

Officemate #2: Are you scared? Is the sight of mentoring too much for you?

Drek: Your "mentoring" confuses and frightens me. I'm not sure I'd recognize it if it happened to me.

Sorry about the lateness of the post, folks. I've been pretty busy today.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Good morning, and good luck...

For those who came by in search of a little Drek, have no fear! There is Drek to be had. It is, however, presently lurking over on Tom's Blog. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today is my second guest-post for blogging pal Tom Bozzo. Go take a gander if you like- there are bikinis.

No, seriously, there are.

And, as long as I'm posting, let's all extend a hearty "good luck" to my Sainted Girlfriend who is defending her proposal today. I'm sure we all wish her the best.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Testing... testing...

Some of you may have noticed that my blog has, evidently, rigged for silent running. By that I mean my front page has turned into a blank sheet of pure white. I have no ready explanation for this, but assure you that I have not decided to stop blogging. Oddly, the Total Drek archives are still accessible via Google, so it would seem I just have some sort of weird display problem. I have notified Blogger so, hopefully, the problem will be resolved soon.

That just leaves the very appropriate question: why am I posting this on my blog where it quite clearly can't be seen?

Um... habit?

No, seriously, I figure with any luck my feeds (Atom, RSS, etc.) are still working so, hopefully, if any of y'all have had this problem before you'll let me know.

Stay tuned folks, we'll be back... eventually.

UPDATE: Well, shit, as soon as this post went up the problem went away so it looks like things are fixed sooner than expected. We're gonna file that in the "Crazy Weird" category, and just hope it doesn't happen again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Best comment ever.

Every now and then I get comments on this blog. Sometimes they're interesting, sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're serious, and sometimes they're trying to sell me a product that can naturally increase my bust size by a factor of three! WOW! Yet, no matter how many comments I've received, I don't think that any of them will ever match this one in response to this post:

Howdy, I am Texino of Panama. I think that your posting about Mr. Greg Buell is well reasoned and given in a polite manner. I appreciate this, as I am the leader of an experimental African Church as well as the President (unelected) of the international banjo group www.banjohome.com and I must often take my share of harsh critique due to my claim of having an extra-natural staff i.e. Two Zombies, a Boogieman, a Bigfoot and the Mahoney family who are actually four brown bears participating in a project designed to see if they will eat their two cubs. My life is a difficult scientific swirl and coupled with my job with The ACP (panama canal) things do get confusing. Anyway, my staff and I salute you for your reasonable approach in the discussion of fine madness and hope that you would be so kind to Dr. Texino and his crew should some person complain that our existence is scary and we should be harshly blogged.

Thank You
Tomas Texino
The MECH Institute
Bocas del Toros
Republic of Panama


Either this is a surreal joke, or the biggest whackjob in the Western hemisphere. Okay, I exaggerate- the second biggest. Regardless, I am highly amused.

As a side note: Holy shit! Not only does our old pal Greg Buell have a new poem MP3 available, he has also apparently picked up a fan club! All I have to say is: where do I sign up?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I am *cough* back.

Well hello everybody! I'm your host, Drek, and I have returned from my recent Misery Journey only slightly the worse for wear. On the positive side, I have returned this time without having sustained injury. This is somewhat unusual, since I almost always end up bleeding at some point during the trip. On the other hand, I have returned with a cold, so I guess you could say I returned with "Misery Journey: The Home Game." This is inconvenient as the next one to two weeks are going to be absurdly busy but, hey, that's the way it goes.

Since I'm swamped with work I don't have a lot to write about today. I have a mountain of grading to complete, and a fairly important deadline this Friday that I need to make. So, blogging will be as spotty and random as ever. I have some fairly neat posts brewing right now, but nothing quite ready to see the light of day.

Or so I would have you believe.

In any case, while you're waiting for me to get my act together, I suppose I can find something else for you to amuse yourself with. Like this website that allows you to build your own South Park character. I suspect this will become a tool for creating Blogger icons in the future but, as uses go, that's not bad. Maybe I can even create my own likeness?



Then again, maybe not. So, I'll post this additional weird picture, and call it a day.



Hey, judging by this, maybe Bush's stated commitment to Human-Fish peace is actually meeting with some success? Now, if only we could be equally successful with Iran...

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