Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hello, my name is Travis and I'm a recovering book addict

I am subscribed to the Borders mailing list (just ask, they can add you too). This week until Thursday, there is 50% off coupon available to people on the list. It looks like this:

After my Nanowrimo weekly write in today, I dropped by Borders and brought this coupon. Just so you know, I have a large pile of books that I am trying to read that I might never get through, since I keep adding to it and can't read as fast as I add.

Anyway, I'm proud to say that I did NOT buy any books. I feel like a recovering alcoholic who accidentally wandered into the beer isle at the grocery story who got out without buying anything.

I have made it a resolution to reduce my book pile several times, but after a reasonable start, I pretty much forget about it and go as normal. This feels like a step forward.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's "Sign up a friend week" for Nanowrimo!

It's November next month. And you know what that means? It's Nanowrimo, and that means yet another novel.

Even though I'm pretty sure everyone who might read this has probably already decided yea or nay on this, if anyone reading this has ever had an tickle of an idea that they might have a novel in them, I can't recommend Nanowrimo enough to you.

It is a rush and a pleasure and a great feeling of accomplishment when you are done.

I'm as excited as I've ever been about my story idea, and I can't wait to get writing. I have already started outlining and that's unusual for me!

Here's to a great novel writing month!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is human evolution over?

I have rarely posted any of my discussions on evolution and God or religion on my blog. I don't know why - it's bound to produce a lot of interest, but I have avoided it because it feels like it would end up being a lot of work. Anyway - here goes nothing.

In a recent bold statement, British geneticists Steve Jones said that human evolution has come to an end. He puts it down to 3 basic facts:

  • Older men are having fewer children (older men have more mutated sperm, so this influences the mutation rate)
  • A vast majority of people are living to reproduce (not dying before they can reproduce like the "good old days of low life expectancy")
  • Small populations that don't mix is pretty much a thing of the past, spreading out genes and "averaging" everyone out
Having read a lot of books about evolution and having a keen interest in the evolution versus creationism/intelligent design "debate", I have to say, I would expect more from a guy like Steven Jones. He is supposed to understand this stuff.

All of his points are correct - all of these things are true. Yet, why would he reach a conclusion like that? I don't exactly know.

Firstly, even according to his own words, mutation rates have lowered, not disappeared, so even according to his own facts, evolution has slowed down, not stopped.

Also, as someone who has played with genetic algorithms, I know that selection, not mutation is the driving force behind evolution. Has selection stopped?

Jones would say yes, since people aren't dying early like they used to. However, dying before reproduction is only one part of selection - there is another part: How do we choose mates?

People are very picky (even after taking alcohol into account) - what kind of things do people like in a mate? Both men and women have strong feelings about who they would pick to have children with.

I have no doubt that human evolution is proceeding in complete ignorance of what Dr. Jones concludes. No doubt, in a few years, the idea that human evolution has stopped will be look at like an earth centered universe.

Monday, September 29, 2008

LHC - the Large Hadron Collider

I know, I know, everyone is talking about this and discussing it and talking about the end of the world etc.. etc... I'm sure you've all heard enough about the Large Hadron Collider!

For me, it's a little different. Seeing the LHC come on line makes me sad. Sad for the simple fact that we could have been so much better off if both the LHC AND the superconducting supercollider had come on line together.


collision strength=14 TeVcollision strength=40 TeV

This means that not only would the superconducting supercollider be 3 times longer but it would have very nearly 3 times as much colliding power. So, for example, if the Standard Model of Particle Physics is wrong, and more power is required for detecting the Higgs Boson (the so-called God particle), then the LHC will NEVER find it. Not to say they can't make other contributions - of course they will, but that would be a real bitch.

The LHC is still pretty cool though, not counting the LHC Rap.

Monday, April 28, 2008

You know you're a geek when...

If you've been following my blog at all, you know that I just bought a microscope. "What the hell does Travis need a microscope for?", you might ask.

I will give you an example.

I'm playing with my cat Fred yesterday, and she accidentally scratched me hard enough to draw blood. Did I do what any sensible person would do and suck at my finger and moan at the soreness of my finger?

No, I said, "Hey! I could do a slide of this!" and rushed off to the microscope and prepared a blood smear.

Results below.

Fred pre-scratch:

Blood cells under the microscope at 400x magnification (the blurriness is due to the camera - it looks much sharper under the microscope - upper left is the clearest):

And, just to give you the full coolness of looking at your own blood under the microscope, here is a video of the blood being moved via capillary action between the slide and the slip:

Some really cool things to note:
  • The cells stack in single file, even after they are on the slide. Red blood cells can only move in single file in the smallest capillaries like the ones at the end of your finger. So, since these came from the end of my finger, they stayed stacked that way.
  • This is the very tiniest drop you can imagine. I barely was able to squeeze it from the end of my finger and yet there are THOUSANDS of cells. The blood covers about 1 cm x 1 cm on the slide and the view here is only a small portion of that, yet still there are hundreds, probably even thousands of cells in view. It's pretty impressive that they all work together.
  • Not visible here, but I noticed after looking for a while are little spiky balls mixed in with the red blood cells. I thought they might be dust on the slide or something, but after looking it up on-line, they are, indeed white blood cells. They are pale, but more yellow than white and actually look like a burr that catches on your clothes in the bush.
  • Even after trying hard to thin out the drop of blood, the group of cells is 3d and under full magnification, you can see the top layer and move through the layers by playing with the focus. For the first few minutes, the blood is continuing to move around.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

First images with my new microscope

Here are a couple of pictures I took with my digital camera over the eye-piece.

So, at 40x magnifiaction, here is an insect wing:

Interesting things that I have learned by looking at this - insect wings (of this insect - I don't even know what it is - I found just the wing in a spider's web on the outside of my house) is covered in tiny hairs. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting that. Also - as you zoom in closer and closer, something as big as this insect wing will only have small pieces in focus at a time.

And some table sugar crystals:

These are very much 3D through the eye piece and even at low magnification, you can only focus on a bit of the crystal. I added a drop of water and watched it gradually melt away - very cool.

The sharp, black arrow on the right hand side and extending into the middle is a part of the eye piece and lets you find things after you've changed the magnification.

As you can probably tell from these images, it's actually quite difficult to get a perfect image through the digital camera. I will almost certainly get a tool to connect the two so I can take better pictures. BUT, for now, this is pretty cool.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Got my new/old microscope today

I have been reading a lot about biology and evolution and decided that I wanted to see some of it first hand. I know this is geeky, but I haven't been so excited for any purchase in a while, so it is worth it.

I went onto trademe and bought a cheap kid's microscope that magnifies up to 900x. This was a big mistake, since it was cheap with a poor design (I could go on for a page about it) and the optics were so crap that it was unusable and I would have smashed it if I'd HAD to keep it too long.

So, I asked if I could return it and Pipsqueaks took it back. I have to say, their service was excellent and they didn't do anything except contact me to ask what they could do to help out.

I then went looking on trademe again and found someone selling their grandfather's old microscope for a reasonable price. I knew from looking previously, that any lab microscope of similar quality would cost $400 or so, so decided to go for the buy now of $120.

Now that I have it, I am glad that I did. Take a look at my microscope:

Note the coarse and fine focusing and note also that the optics don't move, only the specimen tray does. The eyepiece also revolves a full 360 degrees, so without moving the base, you can view from a different positions.

There is a 10x eyepiece and 4x, 10x and 40x objective lenses (totals of 40, 100 and 400 times magnification).

The optics are high quality so I have no complaints and I've been cutting up things to take a look at them. I think I will look for an attachment so I can mount my digital camera on there. It is very cool.