Thursday, April 16, 2015

Last night I set up my first crowd funding effort

WellsFargo just drained Tessa's (Clever Ex-wife's) checking account to apply to the balance on her credit card. Like me, she's been barely hanging on since we lost the house and split up. We're trying to pay down our debts, but it's not always possible to make full payments on time. She's missed some payments. She's currently enrolled in a retraining program funded by the State of Washington. They cover the tuition so she can to take classes to improve her programming skills. The state also sends her a small living stipend. When her stipend was deposited earlier this week, WellsFargo seized the entire amount. Her rent check, written on that same WellsFargo account, is going to bounce. She has nothing to live on. When she called to explain her circumstances to the bank, the collections agent cut her off and said, "You're not getting that money back."

In the first twelve hours after I put the crowd funding page up, WellsFargo contacted me three times on Twitter asking me to get Tessa to call them or DM them. They were oh so eager to see what they could do to help. As long as it was just between Tessa and the bank, they were happy to see her tossed out on the street. Now that it's gone public, in however small a way, they're falling all over themselves to work something out.

This why people hate banks.

The details of what she needs are on the GoFundMe page. Please help.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Really, why do I try?

In all my years of blogging, the post that got the most comments was the simple question "Am I the only one who still thinks of unlined paper as 'typing paper?'"

Today on Twitter, I repeated someone else's mild joke about President's Day and, so far, I've had fifty favorites and retweets, by far the most I've had for anything I've ever said.

Instead of spending all this time researching a book, I should have just gone on social media, written "So, what's the deal with mammoths?" and appended a hashtag for Jerry Seinfeld. It would have instantly made me Mr. Mammoth throughout the internet and gotten me an appearance on the Tonight Show and a fifteen minute NPR feature.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why I hate my life: Reason 4264 (unrelated to being single on St. V Day)

Well, I just did the stupidest thing I've in a long while.
My browser slowed down and eventually froze up. This occasionally happens. Usually, I just close everything and restart. The whole thing takes less than five minutes. It's annoying but an easy fix. That didn't work this time. This occasionally happens. When it does I run the Restore function. This is a little more of an inconvenience since it usually takes over ten minutes. That didn't work. So, I ran it a second time. It still didn't work.
I've never been in this spot. At the bottom of the Restore window that informed the operation was a failure was a link that said consider refreshing your settings. "Okay," I thought, "why not?" I clicked the link and hit go. As soon as I did, I had second thoughts: "Maybe I should find out more about this before going through with it." I tried to to stop it. I even turned off the computer. When I turned it back on, the reset process was still chugging along.
When it was finished, my worst fears were realized. The computer began running through the "Welcome to Your New Computer" presentation. After impatiently waiting through that nonsense and actually getting to part of the computer that I actually use, I began assessing the damage. The good news is that all of my files are still there, though that would have been easy to fix since I back them up regularly. The bad news is that all of my programs are gone. All. Of. Them.
I started by reinstalling Google Chrome. That was the one bright spot in this. Once I logged in to Google it asked if I wanted to restore all of my customizations and promptly downloaded all of my bookmarks, add-ons, and my auto-fill file. That was the last good news. I tried opening up some files and discovered that Office is gone. I can download Office without charge. All I need to do is enter the 85 digit serial number on the disk. That's in a box along with the rest of the contents of my desk, and the desk, in a storage unit in Washington. I can probably muddle along with Google Documents though I won't have any of the language modules that I bought for Office. Those disks were in the desk drawer and are in the same box, in the same storage unit, in the same state that I am not in. The disk for my OCR program was also in that drawer (my desk was pretty well organized). My solitaire games are gone, but I wasted too much time on them anyway. And on and on.
Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Well, this sucks

I just read an article on Buzz Feed by a woman talking about dating for the first time after her marriage fell apart. It's not really about dating in general, it's about a dramatic turn of events specific to her story. What struck me at a personal level was the way she described the appalling prospects for a woman in her late fifties (i.e., women my age). She "watched half in fascination, half in horror as eHarmony’s computerized compatibility matrix churned out a slew of Santa Claus look-alikes." Ever since my beard rather abruptly turned snow-white a few years back, I've been a little put aback by the sudden display of grand-parent respect shown by young people and offers of senior discounts by public employees. Now, I find that, for some educated women my age, the very existence of single men who look like me is considered a "horror."
I can't tell you how eager I'll be to begin dating, if ever.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Boston Charlie

It wouldn't be Christmas without a rendition of the greatest carol of all time.


Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Lyrics by Walt Kelly, Music by Traditional (whoever he was)

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an' Polly Voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Tickle salty boss anchovie
Wash a wash a wall Anna Kangaroo
Ducky allus bows to Polly,
Prolly Wally would but har'ly do!

Dock us all a bowsprit, Solly --
Golly, Solly's cold and so's ol' Lou!

A Holiday Warning

This is a rerun of a post I wrote around this time a few years ago. I think it's still relevant.

*********

The men in black (MIB) entered UFO lore in 1956 in a book entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. The author was one Gray Barker who had been a member of one of the first American UFO groups, the rather ambitiously named International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Though Barker's book dealt with a number of paranormal topics, the largest part of it dealt with his former boss, IFSB founder Albert Bender.

In 1953 the IFSB was about two years old with a few hundred dues paying members (called "investigators") who all received the Bureau's newsletter Space Review. The group was doing well enough when, in October 1953, Bender suddenly stopped publication of Space Review, and dissolved the IFSB. The last issue of the news letter gave only this explanation.
STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by order from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review, but because of the nature of the information we are very sorry that we have been advised in the negative.
According to Barker, the reason Bender had so abruptly ended the group was that three mysterious men in black had visited Bender and warned him off. But before they did, the MIBs were good enough to explain at least part of the true secret of the flying saucers. UFOs, they said, actually come from Antarctica. They have bases in both polar regions and regularly fly between them. Bender told a different story in his own book in 1963.

Enough UFO stories end with the craft departing due north or south that Barker's version of Bender's visitors has been adopted by conspiracy theorists who believe in a decidedly terrestrial origin for saucers. My personal favorite version is that saucers and MIBs are Atlanteans from within the hollow earth, but the theory that they are Nazi refugees from super-scientific bases beneath the ice cap has its devotees, too.

The MIBs are the key to the mystery. The most mundane explanation that has been offered is that they work for the American government and that they are trying to hide the truth about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. But that could itself be disinformation. No government has the ability to do what the MIBs do. Think for a moment about the men in black. They have appeared all over the world. They have a special interest in unidentified flying objects and in protecting the polar regions. They seem to actually know what is in the minds of the people they visit. Who has the ability to manage an intelligence network like that? Ask yourself: Who has the ability to travel everywhere, at any time, and even seemingly to appear in two places at once? Who has a special interest in protecting the polar regions? Who knows when you are sleeping? Who knows when you are awake? Who knows if you've been good or bad?

I think you know the answer.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and be good for goodness sake.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Mammoth in a thong

In an effort to make science even sexier than it already is, Hope Jaren has introduced ‪#‎ThingIStudyInAThong‬ on Twitter. This is my contribution.


Mammoth in a thong. The real reason they went extinct?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

I'm looking good, tonight

My big sisters got together and bought me a new hat for my birthday. It's a Stetson Temple Fedora, the equivalent style and color as my last one (the styles and pallet of Stetson have changed some over the years, so it isn't exactly the same). It arrived in the mail today. Looking snazzy and needing to take it out for a test ride, I walked up to the store and bought a some Q-tips, an job interview shirt, and a battery for my watch. I'm ready for anything. Except snake attacks (note to self: stock up on forked sticks).


And, I don't want to hear any cracks about Fedoras. This is my seventh one. I've been wearing Fedoras since before most hipsters were born or imagined.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Britannica breaks my heart

While hunting for some old images of moeritherium, I came across this:


Everything on it is wrong. Admittedly, the order Proboscidea has a big bushy family tree and many of the lineages and connections are the subjects of active controversies. But this goes beyond valid controversy; it's just wrong.

Starting at the bottom.

The genus Moeritherium is not the ancestor of any later proboscidean species. Though it had a nice long run of its own (almost twenty million years) and produced about a half dozen species, it was a side branch that ultimately left no descendants. When Charles W. Andrews unearthed the first Moeritherium at Fayum, Egypt in 1901, the oldest known proboscidean fossils were gomphotheres from the early Miocene. His discovery pushed the history of the order back to the earliest Oligocene--ten million years, but they didn't know that yet. It was an easy jump to make from earliest elephant to ancestor of elephants and Andrews announced his discovery that way. However, additional discoveries by him and by others soon raised questions about that conclusion and most Twentieth Century paleontologists were content to call it a cousin.

Trilophodon isn't a recognised genus or species at all. The word was coined in 1857 by Hugh Falconer to describe a sub-genus of mastodons that included the American mastodon and about half of the family that later came to be called gomphotheres. The other half, he called Tetralophodons (the terms describe an element of tooth architecture). The words are used today as adjectives, not as formal names, for different types of gomphotheres. The illustration is probably supposed to be Gomphotherium angustidens, the most common and best known Old World gomphothere.

Depending which species the Britannica artist had in mind, they might have managed to get the relationship somewhat right with Platybelodon. It is a trilopodont gomphothere. It produced the final species of the sub-family Amebelodontinae.

As far as mammoths being descended from platybelodons, no, just no. Mammoths are not descended from trilopodont gomphotheres or from tetralopodont gomphotheres or any kind of gomphothere. Their last common ancestor existed about 23 million years ago before the various prodoscidean genera left Africa.

Mammuthus primigenius, the woolly mammoth, is not the ancestor of modern elephants. In fact, it didn't evolve until long after the three surviving elephant species had reached their current forms. The idea that it is an ancestor originated in the earliest days of paleontology, before evolution or the ice ages were understood or accepted. Johann Blumenbach, who first recognized that mammoths were different enough from modern elephants to need a unique scientific, name thought of them as a less refined local breed of elephant and named them Elephas primigenius - the primal or original elephant. It didn't take long for naturalists figure out that the mammoth was different enough to need its own genus - Mammuthus. Outside of creationist literature, I'm not sure where you would find a source that claims mammoths are ancestral to elephants written since the 1880s at the latest. Plus woolly mammoths weren't that large. While they weighed as much African savanna elephants, they were much more compact, shorter and thicker.

African and Mammoth/Asian elephants diverged from each other about seven million years ago. Each of those lines produced several species before the modern ones appeared, coincidentally around the same time, 2.5 million years ago. Mammoths separated from Asian elephants while their common ancestor still lived in Africa.

To sum up: four relationships that are wrong, one species that never existed, one in the wrong chronological order, one visually incorrect (in size), and Asian elephants aren't blue. A correct illustration should look something like this:


When did Britannica become so sloppy?

UPDATE: An editor at Britannica just tweeted me to thank me for bringing the problem to their attention and to say they'll get right on fixing it. My faith is restored.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Not a good way to go

Here's a little story on CT scans of the two baby mammoths Khroma and Lyuba. The two are recent discoveries--found within the last decade--and among the most complete and best preserved ever seen. With such exceptional specimens, it's only natural that researchers would constantly be searching for ways to squeeze a few more facts out of them. Getting an opportunity to run one through an industrial-sized CT scanner is something both teams jumped at. The article mentions some interesting lines of research suggested by the results about how they grew and possible subspecies, but one thing stood out for me: these babies died horrible deaths.


CT scans of Lyuba and Khroma showing the sediment they in haled in their final moments. Source.

Most things that die go straight into the food chain. There are billions of bugs, germs, fungi, roots, wolves, sharks, and birds waiting for their share of anything that dies. If the biosphere has its way, no part will go unused. But, the biosphere does not always get its way and that's the only thing that makes paleontology possible. Some bodies or parts thereof escape the food chain and linger long enough for us look at them long after their parent species have been taken off the menu. There will always be gaps in the fossil record because the processes that lead to fossilization are the exception rather than the rule. Every fossil has a unique story to tell.

Over the last 320 years, fewer than eighty mammoths have been discovered with soft parts preserved (seventy-five by my count). Many of those were no more than a patch of skin with some hair and ligaments attached. Until recently, only about half of those reported were recovered. Only seventeen of the seventy-five were more than half complete when discovered. We know details of the last moments of the lives of only a small number of preserved mammoths. To my knowledge, all but one died a horrible, terrifying death.

The CT scans of Khroma and Lyuba show they drowned, buried in mud, and still gasping hard enough as they went under that they sucked sediment into their lungs. Little Dima, though the story of his death is still disputed, apparently stayed afloat for days in a bog before losing his strength and sinking into the mud. The Berezovka mammoth, an old male, tumbled down a riverbank, breaking his hip and thigh as he fell, and suffocated while struggling to stand up as wet soil slid down the bank and buried him alive.


The taxidermied skin of the Berezovka mammoth in the posture died in, attempting to rise as it was buried. Vladimir Gorodnjanski, 2007.

All of these horrible deaths were preserved because they happened in the Fall. Once the mammoths died, they were quickly frozen, probably that same night, and, for some reason, never thawed. In Lyuba's case, her preservation was aided by settling into an anoxic layer of sediment in the pond where she drowned. Other mammoth carcasses discovered at Yuribei and Fishhook also show a pattern of having died in the late Summer or Fall.


Dutch paleontologist Dick Mol with the head of the Yukagir mammoth. Source.

I'm only aware of one frozen mammoth that died in the Spring and, coincidentally, he's also the only one I'm aware of who died a peaceful death. The Yukagir mammoth was discovered in 2002 on the banks of an oxbow lake east of the Lena River delta. The front part of the body and most of the gut with its contents were recovered and sent to Yakutsk to be studied. The Yukagir mammoth was an old male who died in the early Spring after a tough Winter. He had several deformed vertebrae in his upper back from an infection indirectly caused by inflammatory bowel disease. It was the hungry season just before the plants would begin to bud and bloom. He had been eating a lot of willow twigs, which do not have a very high nutritional value, but they would have filled his stomach and the natural aspirin in them would have soothed his back. It was probably a warm day when he lay down on the shady side of a hill and died. Later, the sun melted some mud higher on the hill which covered the body and froze. Being on the shady side of the hill, it stayed frozen for the next twenty-two thousand years.

That most of the frozen mammoths died in the late Summer or Fall, is not an observation that can be extended as a rule to other fossils. This season was the time of year when large animals on the mammoth steppe had the best odds of being preserved, that is covered in mud and frozen. Other environments had their own best seasons for preservation. I suspect the best time to get preserved in the anoxic depths of a peat bog would be the wettest season. The best time to get deeply buried in sediments of a lake or shallow sea would be the flood season. The least likely time of year for preservation, in any environment, would be any time that left a body exposed on the surface where scavengers and the elements could have their way with your remains.