The 50 Most Loathsome Americans

January 23, 2012

The Buffalo Beast has produced lists of “The 50 Most Loathsome Americans” almost every year this decade (see their lists for: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) To recap, the most loathsome over the years, with…

Three entries: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin
Four entries: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain
Five entries: Ann Coulter, Joe Lieberman
Six entries: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney
Included every year thus far: “You”

I know this because I tried to put the info from the lists on Wikipedia last year, but they didn’t like that :( But hey, neither did Orly Taitz ;)

Their 2011 list is due any day now; HERE! In the mean time though, I thought I’d guess (total not guaranteed to equal 50) who might be on the list when it gets published, in alphabetical order:

Scott Adams
Roger Ailes
Casey Anthony
Levi Aron
Joe Arpaio
Any/all of these Bad Governors (Rick Scott (Florida), Paul LePage (Maine), Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania), Rick Perry (Texas) note: see also below, Jan Brewer (Arizona), John Kasich (Ohio), Rick Snyder (Michigan), Scott Walker (Wisconsin) )
David Barton
Glenn Beck
Rebecca Black
Michael Bloomberg
John Boehner
Harold Camping (I wasn’t raptured because I’m a godless heathen; what’s his excuse?)
Deryl Dedmon (and ‘friends’)
The Duggars (specifically the parents: their 19+2 kids didn’t ask to be born)
John Freshwater
Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO)
Christopher Hitchens
Victoria Jackson (INSANE.)
Kim Kardashian
Amy Koch
Charles & David Koch
Steve Jobs
Rush Limbaugh
Jared Lee Loughner
Keith Mason (Personhood USA)
Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform)
Barack Obama (even if only for signing the Patriot Act Reauthorization)
James O’Keefe
Bill O’Reilly
Sarah Palin
Pepper Spray Cops (Anthony Bologna & John Pike)
Phone hacking scandal participants (Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Les Hinton, et al)
Republicans running for President (Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty)
Jerry Sandusky
Charlie Sheen (and Sheen-wannabe Ashton Kutcher ;)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Tea Party
Tim Tebow
Donald Trump
Anthony Weiner
“You”

If you think I missed anyone who really deserves it, leave a comment!

A picture that should be in every biology textbook

April 9, 2011

Homologous chromosomes of (left to right) humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

Evidence from Blood

December 22, 2010

My contribution to an online chat, slightly edited:

I can share something REALLY neat from my shelf BTW… I have a copy of a small textbook (1926 printing; originally copyright 1917) called “THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION” with subtitle “WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE EVIDENCE UPON WHICH IT IS FOUNDED” (caps in original) by William Berryman Scott.

Now, it’s full of the usual stuff (comparative anatomy, embryology, geographical distribution, etc.) BUT starting on page 73 I read about something I had never heard about before: “EVIDENCE FROM BLOOD TESTS” (caps in original)

It references work by a “Dr. George H. F. Nuttall of the University of Cambridge” (I actually found a pre-WWI copy of Nuttall’s book at the University of Saskatchewan library)

What is done is you take a blood sample from a species (e.g. Human) and let it sit for a few minutes in a dish; the cells will coagulate, but the nearly-clear serum remains. Then you inject the serum into a rabbit over the course of a few days to produce antibodies. Let the rabbit live for a few more days, kill it and then extract its blood and separate out the serum. If you injected human serum into the rabbit, the rabbit’s serum is now “anti-human” serum.

Apparently the antibodies in the anti-human serum are EXTREMELY specific to human blood; if you take even a small amount of blood (fresh, dried as a stain or even “putrid”) and make a dilute solution of it and then add the anti-human serum, it will give a white precipitate if it was human blood, but NOT if it was from other species.

They mention how it was useful in forensics: “In some countries, notably in Germany and Austria, this test has already been adopted by the courts of justice and has been found extremely useful in the detection of crime.”

But here’s where it gets AWESOME…

It was noticed that the precipitation was obtained, though “weaker and slower” in very closely related species (horse and donkey is the example given). Nuttall’s insight: “By using stronger solutions and allowing more time, quite distant relationships may be brought out.”

Nuttall and his fellow researchers did thousands of blood serum tests; the ref given for the publication is “Blood Immunity and Blood Relationship” published 1904.

Update: I just found that archive.org has two copies scanned!

http://www.archive.org/details/bloodimmunityblo00nutt
http://www.archive.org/details/bloodimmunityblo00nuttrich

‎Anyway, getting back to Scott, he says that the blood serum test results (while “highly interesting and important”), give few surprises since it confirms conclusions drawn from other methods (independent confirmation is always good news in science :)

Nuttall marvels “that a common property has persisted in the bloods of certain groups of animals throughout the ages which have elapsed during their evolution from a common ancestor, and this in spite of differences of food and habits of life.”

My analysis: He is probably seeing reactions to proteins like serum albumin; the exact makeup of these proteins will vary from species to species because of genetic differences… so a century ago they discovered a way to indirectly compare the similarity of genes across distant species! :D

Scott condenses Nuttall’s results into 11 points, which I will further summarize ;)

(1) if you use strong enough solutions and enough time, you can get reactions from any mammal/anti-mammal pairing.

(2) In decreasing reactivity to anti-human serum:
* “Man-like Apes” (so, the great and lesser apes; chimps, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons)
* Old World Monkeys
* New World Monkeys and Marmosets
* Lemurs gave basically no reaction.

Point 2 reminds me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_ape_hybrid specifically this: “In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg. Bedford’s paper also stated that human spermatozoa would not even attach to the zona surface of non-hominoid primates (baboon, rhesus monkey, and squirrel monkey), concluding that although the specificity of human spermatozoa is not confined to man alone, it probably is restricted to the Hominoidea.”

Oh, also in relation to point 2, see one of the best (and sadly mostly unknown, which is why I put a copy on my personal site) illustrations of how closely humans are related to the great apes:

http://members.shaw.ca/Limulus/files/chr2/ A paper from 1982 showing comparisons of stained chromosomes…

‎(3) anti-carnivore serums react strongly among carnivores, but weakly with non-carnivores; among carnivores the strongest reactions are “amongst the more closely related forms in the sense of descriptive zoology.”

(IOW the testing supports the monophyly of Carnivora and morphology-based phylogenies within it)

‎(4) In decreasing reactivity to anti-pig serum:
* Family Suidae (pigs, boars, warthogs, etc.)
* ruminants and camels
* whales
Also, anti-llama serum reacts “moderately” to camel blood and the deer family (Cervidae) show “close relationship” with “the great host of antelopes, sheep, goats and oxen” (family Bovidae)

Now, let me say that when I read that mention about whales, I was *floored*. It wasn’t until almost a *century* later that we got strong genetic evidence for whales being related like that; see Figure 5 and related text on http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/molgen/

‎(5) anti-whale serums only strongly reacts with other whales; slight reaction to pigs and ruminants.

[I really should go back and check to see if they did whale-hippo tests; if they didn’t, they were SO close to making a major discovery…]

Also, regarding whales again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetartiodactyla

‎(6) a close relationship between all marsupials “with the exception of the Thylacine or so-called Tasmanian Wolf”

sad sad ;_; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacine

‎(7) strong anti-turtle serum reacts most only with the bloods of turtles and crocodiles; lizard and snake reactions are “almost negative.” Also, “with the egg-albumins of reptiles and birds a moderate reaction is given.”

‎(8) anti-lizard serum reacts most with the blood of lizards “and reacts well” with the blood of snakes.

‎(9) based on 7+8 we get:

[lizards+snakes] [[turtle+crocodile]+bird]

“results for which palaeontogical studies had already prepared us.”

I note with great interest regarding turtles that there is *still* controversy regarding the exact position of turtles and only in recent years do we see support for a phylogeny similar to the above instead of turtles distant from all the other groups…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle#Systematics_and_evolution

When I was at University I was taught that turtles were only distantly related to the diapsids! 1904 science FTW! :D

(10) Crazy amount of lab work: “Tests were made by means of anti-sera for the fowl and ostrich upon 792 and 649 bloods respectively.” The result was that bird/anti-bird reactions were much stronger than mammal/anti-mammal ones; no specific bird group relationships could be drawn.

(This is quite interesting; it is very much in line with the fact that mammals as a group are older than birds…)

‎(11) The horseshoe crab is “problematical”; while aquatic like crustaceans, embryological evidence links to the terrestrial spiders and scorpions. The blood tests support the latter.

WIN! http://myrmecos.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/the-most-ambitious-arthropod-phylogeny-yet/

The rest of the section talks about how we can’t determine exactly how closely related two species are based on the relative precipitation rates (e.g. ostrich and parrot react more than wolf and hyena) “Like all other anatomical and physiological characters, the chemical composition of the blood is subject to change in the course of evolution and these developmental changes do not keep equal pace in all parts of the organism. It is the rule rather than the exception to find that one part of the structure advances much more rapidly than other parts” but even if we keep this firmly in mind, “these tests are very remarkable.”

The last paragraph is like a time capsule to be opened this century when we finally can fully sequence genomes and directly compare them:

‎”The blood tests have brought very strong confirmation to the theory of evolution and from an entirely unexpected quarter; they come as near to giving a definite demonstration of the theory as we are likely to find, until experimental zoology and botany shall have been improved and perfected far beyond their present state.”

Update Aug. 4, 2011: Shared antigenicity between the polar filaments of myxosporeans and other Cnidaria. Using a rabbit antiserum, a link between Cnidaria and Myxozoa is further suspected…

W3Schools: April 2010

May 9, 2010

An update (last post covered data to the end of 2009) on the browser stats at W3Schools.com

Usual disclaimer: data is just for that site, but they keep old numbers up that show trends VERY well.

Trends:

IE as a whole still is still showing major decline, with IE 6 and 7 gowing downhill at about the same rate.

Opera and Safari are flat at low levels. Firefox is flat at a high level.

Chrome and IE 8 are both rising.

Discussion:

The pool of IE6 users represents XP machines that have not been upgraded.  It cannot realistically grow larger.  People who have not upgraded from IE6 probably never will on their current machines; the decline of IE6 is likely caused by old machines failing and new ones (mostly Win7/IE8) being bought to replace them.

IE8 is thus rising, but I don’t think they are getting almost any converts from non-IE browsers.  Watch for each successive IE release to be weaker than the last.

Chrome is scooping up users left and right.  The net effect is that they are taking away IE market share, but I’m going to speculate that a good number of people are still switching to Firefox, while others switch from Firefox to Chrome, with an overall effect that Firefox is flat.

Frankenstein’s Netbook

May 9, 2010

or, what I learned from triple-booting an MSI Wind U100…

My wife’s birthday was the other day and she had been wanting a MacBook to go with her iMac.  Proprietary software is not my thing, but it makes her happy.  Problem: nowhere near enough $ to buy one.  Not enough $ to buy an iPad either (if they were even for sale here, that is).  So we talked a bit and really she just wanted something portable for her games… and what I ended up doing was buying a cheap netbook (the older model MSI Wind U100) and started learning everything I could about making a ‘hackintosh’ out of it.

Now, when talking about what could (theoretically) be done, try not to sound too confident since you may just get asked to that in practice ;)  Basically, yes, it would be nice if she could run her XP games too and Ubuntu would be icing on the cake… so I started learning about how to make a triple-boot system.

Two days of on-and-off tinkering later, I emerged from my room with a kludged together system that actually can boot successfully :)  I used the SnowyWind OS X distro and Grub2 and Chameleon… it’s not perfect, but it boots OSX/WinXP/Ubuntu 10.04 consistently.

What I noticed:

XP is ancient; a real clunker.  Had to use an external USB CD-ROM (USB flash drives can be used in theory, but this was just easier).  Sloooooow install.  25-character key in tiny print to read off the sticker on the bottom.  WGA.  A mountain of security patches.  3rd party drivers to make the hardware work.  Would love to toss it in an internet-free VirtualBox cage and throw away the key if I could.

Hackintosh distros are still rather… brittle.  Reminds me of the reported difficulties of Linux pre-Ubuntu, mixed with the groping around in the dark feel of doing things with proprietary software that the original authors didn’t want you doing.  Feels like a ‘square peg in a round hole’.

Adding more OSs always makes things more complicated :) No “average user” will ever want to mess with bootloaders and when something goes wrong, you might as well reinstall.

Ubuntu loves you unconditionally and wants to make your life easier ^_^

Unless you have a real reason to want XP (games… sigh), or OS X on non-Apple hardware (games… heh), you really are just setting yourself up for a headache down the road.  Ubuntu installs fast, is very straightforward, small and netbook-friendly.  Oh and there are even proprietary games for it these days too.

I look forward to the day when $199 ARM-based netbooks with Ubuntu flood the market ;)

An Open Letter to Mozilla: RE Ubuntu

January 28, 2010

This morning I noticed a link to this article that caught me off guard: Ubuntu is changing it’s default search selection in Firefox for the next release to Yahoo because they are going to pay more (than Google does).  Now, I don’t much care for Yahoo (especially now that they use Microsoft for search since I REALLY don’t like Microsoft ;) but this is a wakeup call and this needs to be said:

Mozilla needs to make an official repository for Ubuntu.

It can support Debian and all the other DEB-based systems too (that would be awesome), but it NEEDS to be primarily aimed at Ubuntu because that’s the most common distro (I love this graphic from Google)

fedora debian ubuntu suse | opensuse

Ubuntu does a poor job of keeping Firefox current as releases age; Karmic is using the 3.5 series and Jaunty the 3.0 series.  I understand *why* Ubuntu does it that way (ala Debian’s update everything) but internet-facing apps ESPECIALLY the browser should be kept up to the most current stable version and I think that Mozilla would agree.  A stable Thunderbird 3 for Karmic would be nice too!  All of this can be neatly housed in a repository.

Opera and Chrome maintain repositories AND make 64-bit Linux versions for them; its time for Mozilla to do so as well.

As Ubuntu continues to gain popularity, I want to see Mozilla apps getting updated just as fast as on other supported platforms.  Make a repository and people WILL add it to Synaptic.

Update Jan. 29: for now you can add the Firefox Stable PPA to get 3.6, though I did have some issues at first (see comments) and suggest a clean start (backup your bookmarks and then import them).

Update May 25: they also have a Thunderbird Stable PPA.

Microsoft lies to your face about browser security

January 20, 2010

Microsoft’s Head of Security and Privacy in the UK has told TechRadar that people who jump ship from Internet Explorer after the recent spate of bad headlines risk ending up on a less secure browser. With France and Germany both advising a move away from Internet Explorer, things are far from rosy for Microsoft’s browser […yet] Microsoft’s UK security chief Cliff Evans insists that a non-Microsoft browser is the worse option. “The net effect of switching [from IE] is that you will end up on less secure browser,” insisted Evans. “The risk [over this specific] exploit is minimal compared to Firefox or other competing browsers… you will be opening yourself up to security issues.

Let’s fight FUD with facts…

Vulnerability Report: Mozilla Firefox 3.5.x
Unpatched: 0

Vulnerability Report: Google Chrome 3.x
Unpatched: 0

Vulnerability Report: Opera 10.x
Unpatched: 0

Vulnerability Report: Apple Safari 4.x
Unpatched: 0

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.x
Unpatched: 24
Most Critical Unpatched: Extremely critical

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.x
Unpatched: 11
Most Critical Unpatched: Extremely critical

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.x
Unpatched: 4
Most Critical Unpatched: Extremely critical

My recommendation if you use Windows: make sure the version of IE that’s installed (because you can’t uninstall it!) is the latest/least vulnerable (IE8) and then install at least one of the non-IE browsers listed (personally I always recommend Firefox :) and then use THAT.  Of course, you could always switch to a Mac or Linux…

Related: Internet Explorer – Endless Security Problems

Update Jan. 21:

Firefox released version 3.6!

Microsoft issued an emergency patch to plug the Aurora exploit which they apparently have known about since AUGUST. Here are Secunia’s updated IE numbers:

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.x
Unpatched: 23
Most Critical Unpatched: Moderately critical

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.x
Unpatched: 10
Most Critical Unpatched: Moderately critical

Vulnerability Report: Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.x
Unpatched: 3
Most Critical Unpatched: Less critical

Miguel de Icaza, Microsoft MVP

January 15, 2010

From an e-mail I sent to the Ubuntu Sounder mailing list:


Microsoft names ex-rival ‘MVP’
Todd Bishop on Wednesday, January 13, 2010, 8:16am PST

Miguel de Icaza, Microsoft MVP?

Yep, it’s true. The open-source rabble-rouser who was prevented from hosting a session inside Microsoft’s 2005 Professional Developer Conference has been accepted into the ranks of the company’s “Most Valuable Professionals” less than five years later. He announced the news on his blog.

De Icaza is the leader of the open-source Mono project, sponsored by Novell, which previously set off alarm bells inside Microsoft for its ability to expand Microsoft .NET applications to other platforms, including Linux. Relations between de Icaza and Microsoft have warmed following the Redmond company’s partnership with Novell.

He’s also on the board of the Microsoft-supported CodePlex Foundation, Meanwhile, Mono spin-off project Moonlight, an open-source implementation of Microsoft’s Silverlight interactive technology, has won the blessings of the Redmond company.

De Icaza was accepted as a Microsoft MVP for C#, the .NET programming language.

“This will be a great opportunity to build more bridges with Windows developers and show them that there is an ECMA CLI (Common Language Infrastructure) life in the other side of the OS spectrum,” he writes in his post, adding, “Looking forward to the group picture!”

A bit of a rant follows below…

Miguel de Icaza is (and really always has been) chasing rainbows.  A quote:

“when we tell people the right applications which are not unique to Windows that doesn’t particularly help Windows. And so we’ll continue to see and do things that are standard-based because that’s important. And you continue to see us encourage developers to do things that run uniquely on the Windows platform. You know, with the new Silverlight, you can build Silverlight applications that are flash-like in the sense that they run across platform. But you can also do things which are even nicer which really narrow down and run only on Windows.  And given that Windows is a billion units, you can afford to make optimizations as long as they bring value and do your applications that are Windows unique.” — Steve Ballmer

Another:

“Microsoft has had clear competitors in the past. It’s a good thing we have museums to document that” — Bill Gates

And this too:

“I once preached peaceful coexistence with Windows. You may laugh at my expense — I deserve it.” — Jean-Louis Gassée

(don’t know him? He ran a company, Be, that made an OS called BeOS… some pics. No, I didn’t know about them either until relatively recently ):

A bit of an aside, a quote from Scot Hacker, author of that article:

“So here we are in 2001, and guess what? It’s still not possible to purchase a dual-boot Win/Linux machine. Doesn’t that seem kind of odd? With all of the hype Linux has gotten, and with the technical simplicity of shipping dual-boot machines, not a single PC OEM is shipping such a beast. The technology marketplace is glutted with options. Vendors use even the smallest opportunities to trumpet their differentiating factors. Linux is free. And yet there are no commercially available dual-boot machines on the market. Not one. The silence of the marketplace speaks volumes. There is no other way to explain this phenomenon other than as a repercussion of the confidential Windows License under which every hardware vendor must do business.”

…and realize that now it’s 2010 and NOTHING has changed as far as that’s concerned; Linux has to try and claw its way onto machines where it can, mostly used Windows systems for which the hardware was not Linux-optimized.

And now getting back to Mono, realize that Microsoft controls the show; that ultimately they will steer it in the direction they want (to Windows sales) just as they have done with Microsoft Office document formats that really only work perfectly in Microsoft Office.

If we follow that route, we will only ever be a ‘Windows knock-off’.  We need to take a page from the ODF struggle and refuse to play the game by Microsoft’s rules.  I really think that collectively we need to say no to Mono just as much as if Microsoft wanted us to use Bing as Ubuntu’s default search engine.

(please do not scoff; when Microsoft got Linspire to do a ‘patent protection’ deal, one of the results was that “Linspire will make Microsoft’s Live.com search engine the default Linspire 5.0 web search engine”)

Apparently Ballmer just had his 10th anniversary as Microsoft CEO; the tactics may change somewhat, but realize that Microsoft is still not our friend.

How you can give 10¢ to Haiti relief

January 14, 2010

via Twitter:

PLEASE RT! Want to help Haiti but don’t have $? Comment here: http://bit.ly/7i030b For every comment 10¢ will be donated to relief efforts.

My dime:

On November 1, 1755 around 10:24 AM, there was an earthquake off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1755_Lisbon_earthquake

between it and the fires as well as massive tsunami it spawned, 85% of Lisbon was obliterated, with 30-40K of its 200K inhabitants killed.

The message to the people of Haiti that I wish to send is that of Lisbon’s then-prime minister “Sebastião de Melo (the Marquis of Pombal) [who] survived the earthquake. When asked what was to be done, Pombal reportedly replied “Bury the dead and heal the living,” and set upon organizing relief and rehabilitation efforts.”

Some other Haiti-related comments I made on Twitter:

* Best 2build homes, hospitals +schools. RT @USATODAY: ‘What if your city’s churches, like #Haiti‘s, were suddenly gone?’ http://bit.ly/6zNbZY

* Pat Robertson is a vile little man: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/13/pat-robertson-haiti-curse_n_422099.html

* http://bit.ly/5BZUsb Geologist warns of “major seismic activity in Port-au-Prince” in 2008, says “Thank God [for] science”

and, in reply to: “Am completely disgusted. Workmates conversing on how Haiti brought destruction upon themselves by believing in “voodoo and not god”.” I wrote:

What do workmates say e.g. when a tornado hits a church in the US? They must be excited for doom in Calif. :/

Update Jan. 17: There were a total of 25,850 comments left on that post! 8-)  Originally the plan was to donate 10 cents per post, divided among three charities, BUT (in a VERY cool move) they decided to donate $2585 to *each* of the three charities; each post thus was worth thirty cents :)

Also!  Christopher Hitchens has a post up, “A Fault Is Not a Sin“, which references the 1755 Lisbon disaster too.

W3Schools: 2009 ends with IE down, Firefox flat and Chrome up

January 9, 2010

Half a year has passed since I last blogged about the browser stats from W3Schools.com (usual disclaimer: they’re just for that site, but they keep old numbers up that show trends VERY well) and the summary is that in the last half of 2009, IE was down, Firefox flat and Chrome up:

The global graph from StatCounter seems to show a similar trend. The ‘flatness’ of Firefox is interesting though; I strongly suspect that it is still getting IE converts, BUT is also losing some users to Chrome. The only version of IE still growing is IE8 and that’s almost flat.

By comparison to Chrome, Opera is flat and Safari has only made minor gains (probably from preloads)

So as we enter 2010, it looks like the browser to watch is Chrome. When Firefox finally releases 3.6, that should help boost its usage.


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