Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thanks PZ!

Until this Tuesday, the only people who read my blog were me, and a few close friends whom I had to twist their arms practically, and they never left comments. In fact the only comment I had gotten was from a christian ex-girlfriend who didn't like my post on Christian Natural Selection.

However, that all changed when PZ Myers was gracious enough to post a link to my blog on Pharyngula. Since then, I've tripled the the number of hits on my blog, and actually gotten some good comments as well. It looks like I just may make it in the blogging world. But I can't do it without you guys, so keep reading and posting your comments, and I'll try to keep posting interesting stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I always thought vanity and lying were sins...

William Lucas of Common Sense Science came to Virginia Tech on Friday night, thanks to the Campus Bible Fellowship, and gave a talk entitled "Expanding Earth: Scientific Evidence for Biblical Creation." I attended for the first half of his lecture, but once he started talking about god I felt a little nauseated and had to leave. Fortunately for me, he'd split his talk up in to two halves: the first half was "scientific" evidence for an expanding earth, and the second half was the jesussy stuff. So I didn't miss out on any of the fun stuff.

Lucas began with a brief history of his "scientific" career, calling himself a "scientist by backgroung," which I thought was somewhat accurate since it implies he does not contribute to science currently (which he doesn't) but I don't know if he ever really did in the first place. Anyway he claims he entered college at the junior level and that the college made him teach the undergraduate classes below that to prove that he knew the stuff. Why would they even have admitted him at that level if they needed proof? It's only 5 minutes into the talk and it already smells fishy...

He went on to mention something about his masters and PhD work, which I won't bore you with, however, he did mention that his PhD research included bombarding matter with negatively charged particles that replace the electrons, whereas on his resume he says that his PhD is in Theoretical physics. I may only have a B.S. in physics, but I'm pretty sure that theoretical physics does not involve doing experiments oneself. Hence the theoretical part...

Moving on, he began his actual slideshow with several slides illustrating the "stretch marks" resulting from an expanding earth. "evidence" for these stretch marks included the midatlantic ridge and other divergent plate boundaries, and a map of tectonic plate movement. He highlighted a few boundary points where plates were diverging and claimed that every single one was moving away each other. Now looking at that map (this isn't the exact one he used, but it's essentially the same thing), you can see that there are indeed some plates that are moving away from each other, but take for example the Eurasian and Pacific plates. They look to me like they are converging. The funny thing was that the map he used in his talk included that evidence of convergence, he simply ignored it and hoped everybody else would too. But the icing on the cake was that he claimed textbook authors deliberately laid out maps so that evidence for the expanding earth was near the edges so they'd be less conspicuous, while he was doing exactly that on his own slides.

His next few slides were even worse. He showed different iterations of the same picture over and over again, claiming they were evidence for different phenomena. These phenomena were geologic age, temperature, "Ocean Magnetic Stripes," and heat flow. Geoligic age and temperature make sense to me, except that he only talked about the mid atlantic ridge, which scientists knew was exhibiting that behavior anyway. I think he completely invented "Ocean Magnetic Stripes," because I couldn't figure out what he was even trying to say, and heat flow to me seemed like a result of temperature difference, but I didn't listen to him very well because I was trying not to laugh.

Then he talked about various geological phenomena like earthquakes and volcanoes and how they all occur on or near fault lines, and how this is due to the earth's expansion. I guess if you don't have any data of your own, you might as well steal other people's data and make it fit your crackpot ideas. Then he showed pictures of the moon with "continents" and mares (seas) as well as pictures of Venus, Mars, and Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, and talked about how they were all expanding too. No data to support this was presented, he just threw it out there for us to swallow. One funny thing was that he called Ganymede a planet about five times before his wife corrected him that it was a moon.

Here his talk took a different turn: after a brief summary of the previous slides, he moved to a new slide entitled, somewhat ironically, "Logical Foundations in Science," with the following "rules" for science
-no false postulates allowed*
-no theories on false postulates*
-all theories must be self-consistent*
-all valid measurements of same quantity must be the same** (he said 82 methods for determining the age of the earth: 4 say old 78 say new...you do the math)
-all entities in universe intereact in self-consistent manner

* rules he violated in this talk
**rules he couldn't violate because he didn't take any data

Using these rules, he went on to "disprove" quantum mechanics, general and special relativity:

According to Lucas, quantum mechanics is wrong for the following reasons:
-not science (no further explanation)
-postulate that observation causes wavefunction to collapse to definite state (he says this is equivalent to "the moon isn't there if nobody's looking)*
-point particle postulate (he proposes a finite-sized spinning ring of charge model for particles)
-postulate that the universe is controlled 100% by random statistical processes (he says we don't just wake up on venus do we?)**

*This illustrates a common misunderstanding of quantum mechanics. We can't just look at an electron and see where it is. We need to actually do something to it to "observe it." Thus the electron doesn't exist in any definite state until it actually interacts with something else. It has nothing to do with us as humans "seeing" it.

**According to quantum mechanics, it is theoretically possible that a full person could be on earth one second and on Venus the next, but this is so astronomically improbable that it wouldn't happen in a span of time trillions of times longer than the age of the universe. The only things we see this kind of quantum behavior with reasonable probability, are particles on the quantum scale (so named for that exact reason) This can be seen in quantum tunneling, for example.

Lucas says the general and special theories of relativity are wrong for the following reasons:
-c is the upper limit on velocity (he says "that just doesn't make sense, and quantum tunnelling shows an example of faster-than light travel by an electron...see above)
-also requires point particles
-claims velocity of light is independent of source*
-claims space is isotropic- (he pronounced it isotopic, without the r)

*to disprove this, he showed some mumbo-jumbo about the Michaelson-Morly experiment, which actually worked to prove this aspect of STR.

He also claimed that the only paper for which Einstein got a Nobel Prize (on the Photoelectric Effect) was written by his wife and not him. He told the whole story, but of course provided no evidence to support it.

At this point he introduced his "Universal Force Law," which, coincidentally, happens to explain every one of QM's, GR's and STR's downfalls. He said something about trying to solve a problem on electromagnetism and he just stumbled across this second term, which nobody else had ever seen, and which, incidentally, also happens to explain absolutely everything in the universe. Here is a synopsis.

-Gravity is an electromagnetic phenomenon resulting from vibrations of electrons in atoms.
-magnetic force from spinning ring of charge that is the electron is strong enough to counteract electic attration from the proton.
-Revised law of gravity such that the fundamental gravitational constant G and mass don't exist (he actually said "no such thing as G or mass)
-Predicts every fundamental particle, including the graviton (didn't show any predictions)

Then he gave a bunch of evidence supporting his law, which, like before is simply other people's data that he claims supports his theory, but he never actually shows how they are connected. Here's what he said:

-2.7 K background radiation from the universe is predicted by his law, and it fits the data.*
-Earth and all the planets follow a corkscrew motion in their orbits. (he showed some diagrams, but no actual observation of this kind of motion or any kind of data for that matter)

*He actually showed this exact graph, with the fit of data from COBE to the theoretical curve, which actually comes from quantum mechanics. He didn't say anything about how he predicted that curve, or even why it should look like that, as opposed to something different.

That's the end of the first part of the talk. As I said before I didn't stay for the second half, but he did allow questions during the break between the two halves, so I'll summarize some of the questions and their answers (if you can call them answers)

Q. In your model of gravity being a result of oscillating electrons in atoms, are the electrons oscillating on just one side of the proton, or do they switch sides?

A. Well you see electrons are finite-sized rings, and the magnetic force is stronger than the electrical force so it keeps the electron from crashing into the proton

Q. So if the magnetic force is what is keeping the electron and the proton apart, and it's caused by spining charge in a ring, what's to keep the rings from flipping, thereby reversing the direction of the force and pulling the two together?

A. Well since they're both finite-sized rings, the edges can actually interact, and if you look at, for example the Bohr model, the electron must continuously emit radiation. That doesn't happen, so it's not true.

Q. So if gravity is caused by oscillating electrons in atoms, and oscillating charges emit radiation, shouldn't the electrons continuously emit radiation? Won't they eventually run out of energy?

A. Yes and they do, that's why all mass is decaying.

Whoo boy, this guy could skirt questions like it's his job. Actually, I think it is his job... Anyway, that's all I stayed for, but what I did see was, needless to say, quite entertaining. At the same time, though it's scary that people like this are out there. This guy had no data to support some crackpot idea he has, so he stole everybody else's data and pretended that it supported his idea.

And the christians out there want some proof so badly they'll swallow anything from anybody, which makes Lucas' job so much easier. It'd be nice if we could get everybody to be just a teensy bit more skeptical, but we are talking about Christians here...


By the way, if anybody is interested in any of the topic covered in this post, below are several links on reliable information on the topics.

http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/dynamic/understanding.html#anchor5567033
http://www.geography-site.co.uk/pages/physical/earth/tect.html
http://ircamera.as.arizona.edu/NatSci102/NatSci102/lectures/moon.htm

Friday, September 19, 2008

Survey Reveals 55% of Americans are Meatheads

TIME is reporting on a survey that reveals that 55% of Americans believe they have been watched over by a guardian angel at least once in their life. The article clarifies that this is not the fraction of the population that merely believes in guardian angels, rather they believe to have experienced the protection of one.

The survey also included questions about being spoken to directly by god and miraculous healing, but these received far less support than guardian angels. So what causes people to draw the line between guardian angels and miraculous healing? Both seem equally ridiculous and impossible to me.

It's funny how these people are so ready to believe something like protective fairies for which no physical evidence would exist even if they were real, but as soon as you up the ante to something like divine healing for which you would have hard proof (and there is none) they don't believe.

I guess that means they're partway there. They're applying a very low level of skepticism, which hopefully can be cultivated and grown until they're actually reasonable.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Facebook...

Ok I use Facebook. I wouldn't say that I'm addicted to it. I don't feel the urge to check it many times daily. Once a week is closer to how often I actually check it. But it doesn't bother me when other people check Facebook religiously, every couple of hours or so, or spend several hours at a time browsing through friends' profiles. They can waste their time however they want and it's no skin off my nose.

But I must say that I don't understand the zeal with which some of these Facebookites defend their beloved website. I just got an invitation to join a Facebook group that is serving as a petition to get them to keep the website from changing it's profile from having everything on one page, to having multiple tabs for each page. There are at least a half dozen groups that exist now entitled "I Hate the New Facebook" or some variation thereof, and there's even one called "1,000,000 against the new facebook."

There seems to be a whole lot of energy going into protesting a minor change to the layout of A FUCKING SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE. I mean come on people, it's not like the government is taking away our civil liberties here. Put your efforts towards a more meaningful cause, and stop bitching and moaning about how you have to click twice to see your friend's pictures instead of only once like back in the good ol' days.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's a Right-Handed World

For those of you who are southpaws out there, you understand what I mean when I say that the world we live in is dominated by right-handers. Just because they make up 90-93% percent of the population, they think they have the right to make life as hard as possible for us lefties.

Now I know there are bunch of you right-handers out there who are saying, "What? we've done no such thing." Well it's time to wake up and face your ruthless bigotry. Here is a list of items and tools designed for use with the right hand, with no regard to the idea that some of us preferentially use our left hands:

computer mouses (mice?)
spiral notebooks
ladles
pencil sharpeners
schoolroom desks
scissors (and don't give me that bullshit about left-handed scissors they used to have in kindergarten. they were vastly inferior: I could have cut a cleaner line with my teeth)
hockey sticks
rotary cheese graters

The list goes on and on.

But this post is not about complaining about our plight. I've long since come to terms with that, only getting on my soapbox about it when I absolutely have to. No what this post is about is that the bigotry and prejudice, it seems, is not restricted to people. It appears that the laws of physics and molecular biology share the same right-handed skew. Check it out:

DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic for every living thing on the planet, forms a right-handed helix. Likewise, proteins form a type of secondary structure called an alpha-helix, which, you guessed it, also happens to be right-handed. Shameful...

Now take a look at physics. You'd think that the science at the root of it all would be a little bit more objective, but no. Many physical phenomena, such as torque and magnetic force on a moving charge obey what is called the Right-Hand Rule. This means that the direction of the torque or force can be determined by curling the fingers in the direction of rotation (as is the case for torque) or from the direction of the charges velocity to the direction of the magnetic field.

Last, and perhaps the most insulting, is that the weak force only interacts with one kind of fermion. And what kind of fermion is that? The left-handed kind of course.

The universe hates us.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Scientific Whiplash

It just occurred to me, that as one goes through secondary and undergraduate education in science, The pace at which new ideas are uncovered is absolutely breakneck. Now I'm not complaining about moving too quickly in lectures; in fact, sometimes I wish they'd speed up and I didn't have to hear about 'how DNA is an anti-parallel double-stranded helix' for the umpteenth time at the beginning of every single class.

No, what I mean is it's breakneck compared to graduate education. Again, I need to include a disclaimer: I don't think that graduate school is easier or involves less learning than undergraduate. It's just that in graduate school, new ideas (to the student) are revealed less and less frequently. This is because graduate school in science is the shift from a focus on learning theory to learning research techniques. After two years or so, you stop taking classes altogether.

So the halt in discovery of new ideas is because you start running out of new ideas that have already been discovered by somebody else, and instead have to start making these new discoveries yourself. And anybody who has worked in a laboratory or in the field knows that making these discoveries takes a considerable amount of time: months, even years. In contrast, as an undergrad, you are exposed to an entire biosynthetic pathway--something that probably took decades to work out--in a matter of minutes.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I am truly grateful for all those scientists who came before me and spent so much time and made those discoveries so that I can learn them in a much shorter period of time. And in return, or perhaps I'm paying it forward, I will eventually get a PhD and contribute some real original research.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cows or Compasses?

I just heard about this study that went on at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, where they used Google-Earth satellite images to observe cows and wild deer, which align their bodies a with Magnetic North.

I think the weirdest thing about this is not that they can sense north--there are many animals that can do that--but that we have had domesticated livestock for 10,000 years and nobody has ever noticed this before.

C'mon cowfarmers, get with it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biochemistry is worth it

So, since this is my last semester of undergraduate studies here at Virginia Tech, I had a relatively easy schedule set up for myself. In this schedule, I had no classes before 10:00 AM, indeed, on Mondays and Wednesdays I didn't have class until 2:30, and I didnt' even have class at all on Friday.

So then I got to thinking, which is generally a bad sign, and I decided I should take a biochemistry course, since everything I am interested in regarding microbes is on the molecular level. Well, the only biochemistry course that I could take, not being either a biochemistry major nor a graduate student was offered in a single section at 8:00 AM MWF. . . UGH. . .

However, after only one class period, my view has changed, and I now think that it is all worth it. What, you may be asking yourself, could have caused such a drastic change? Well I'll tell you: Hydrophobic Interactions.

WTF?

Yes you heard me right. One thing that is really pounded into bio-major's heads is the whole 'like dissolves like' creed, which says that polar solvents can dissolve polar solutes, but not nonpolar ones, and vice versa. The reasoning behind polar solvents (such as water) being able to dissolve their polar brethren is always given and is pretty understandable:

The oxygen atom in a water molecule carries a partial negative charge due to increased electron density and thus is attracted to the positive end of a polar solute, say NaCl. thus the O side of the water molecule attacks the Na side of NaCl, and the Hydrogen side, bearing a partial positive attracts the negative Cl side, thus pulling them apart and dissolving the NaCl.

But what about solutes such as glucose, that aren't ionic and separable? Same idea, only water molecules surround the entire molecule binding via hydrogen bonds to the partial negative and positive charges located throughout the molecule, thus dissolving it whole, rather than splitting it apart.

So that's all well and good, but what makes nonpolar molecules 'hydrophobic?' I undersand why they aren't dissolved like polar compounds, but what makes them 'afraid' of the water molecules and want to 'get away' from them? And what makes them congregate? If they don'thave significant partial charges, there is nothing to attract them to each other. Why don't nonpolar molecules simply float around randomly, simply ignoring each other and the surrounding water molecules?

These are questions that had been at the back of my mind for quite some time now, but thanks to an assigned reading in my biochemistry textbook (Chapter 2 in Essential Biochemistry by Pratt and Cornely if you're wondering) they have been answered.

The answer lies in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that, in a closed system entropy must always increase, or in this case free energy, which is related to entropy, must always decrease. The free energy G = H -TS (where H is enthalpy, T is absolute temperature, and S is entropy) must decrease when a nonpolar molecule is hydrated, or surrounded my water molecules. In this case the change in enthalpy during hydration contributes much less to the overal change in free energy than the change in entropy does, so we'll focus on the latter. Now in order to decrease free energy, we'll need to increase entropy (because it's negative in the relation above)

So when a nonpolar molecule is hydrated, the layer of water molecules sourrounding it cannot participate in normal hydrogen bonding, so they must 'lay flat' against the molecule such that neither the partially positive nor the partially negative ends stick out. This conformation, in restricting the possible orientations of the water molecules decreases their entropy, which can't happen. So what happens, is the nonpolar molecolues aggregate into one giant blob so that a minimum amount of water molecules have decreased entropy, because, as size increases, the surface area-to volume ratio decreases.

So there you have it. One major relevation after only the first day of class. I can't wait until the next class!

I'm Back!!

Hey, so after a couple months of not posting anything, I'm finally back on a regular schedule and am in the mood to post something. I plan on resuming a regular schedule of posting, so be sure to check back often, as I may be posting once or more times a day.

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin

I just heard today, with great sadness, that George Carlin died. I would have had a lot cleaner childhood had it not been for this foul-mouthed comedian, and for that I am deeply indebted to him. So with that, I'd like to say a few words:

Shit, Piss, Cunt, Fuck, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Christian Natural Selection

I was just thinking the other day, what if suicide was not a mortal sin in Christianity, punishable by an eternity in hellfire? Just think of the implications: Wackos would be killing themselves left and right to leave this sin-filled world and join the "kingdom of god."

Meanwhile, here in the real world, presuming these people ended their lives before they could procreate, Christianity would be selected against, and logical freethinkers would prevail. Sadly, this is not the case, and so we must live with them.

While pondering this for a while, however, a scary thought entered my mind. What if one of these kooks decided to take it upon himself to deliver a whole lot of people into heaven by suicide bombing himself on a crowded subway? That would certainly not be good. Perhaps it is a good thing that suicide is the sin that it is. I guess we'll have to come with other schemes to get rid of them, such as, for example, education.

Word of the Day 19 June, 2008

Today's Word of the Day is

defenestrate:
To throw out of a window.

A goal of mine someday is to get into a debate with a creationist and make him so angry that he defenestrates me. That would absolutely make my day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Word of the Day 11 June, 2008

Today's Word of the Day is Patrician:

1.
A member of one of the original citizen families of ancient Rome.
2. A person of high birth; a nobleman.
3. A person of refined upbringing, manners, and taste.

Damn, this is a hard one. . .

Some members of the Roman Catholic Clergy believe themselves to be such patricians that they can get away with anything. Shameful

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Word of the Day 10 June, 2008

When I started this blog (three days ago) I promised myself that I would write at least one post a day. I was trying to think of something I could write daily that wouldn't get old, and that at the same time would benefit me. So I settled on a "Word of the Day" post, where I'll take Dictionary.com's word of the day and write anywhere from a sentence to a few paragraphs using that word. Hopefully, a few weeks or months doing this will get me in the habit of writing and also improve my vocabulary to boot!

Today's Word of the Day is surfeit:
1.
An excessive amount or supply.
2. Overindulgence, as in food or drink.
3. Disgust caused by overindulgence or excess.

There is a surfeit of religious fanatics in this world. One may say that there is no problem with meatheads believing in fairy tales, but more often than not, these beliefs negatively affect others, frequently innocent bystanders. Consider the conflicts going on in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, or the poor girls from the Texas polygamist ranch, or the gay and lesbian folks in states other than California or Massachusetts who just want to get married, or . . . The list goes on and on. Something must be done, and that something, while perhaps not easy in practice is simple in theory. That something is EDUCATION!

What it Means to be a Physicist

I just graduated from the physics program a month ago, and as one of the top two students, I had to give a speech. That may sound pretty impressive, but when you consider that there were only thirteen of us, it's not too great an achievement. Regardless, I never actually wrote my speech down, and I'd like to before I forget it completely. I can think of no better place to do so than here, so here goes.

These speeches always have to have some kind of clear message with a big meaning, so I thought I'd try to tackle the biggest of them all: what it means to be a physicist. So I sat down and thought about what it really means, and I didn't come up with anything. I think I have it now, but I can't take credit for it myself. The credit actually goes to some girl whose name I can't even remember. Here's the story

Four years ago, back when I was a naive freshman, I was sitting in a classroom waiting for English class to start, and I was making small talk with the other students. Well, of course the subject of majors came up and I told this girl that I was a physics major (this was before I added microbiology. Her reply was,

"Oh. . . Why?

I didn't really have a good answer at the time. I just said something to the effect of "I dunno, I guess I'm good at math." But now I realize that she answered her own question. You know what that answer was? "Why?" It may sound odd that a question can serve as an answer, but it really is the best possible answer.

"Why?"

Ok, so it's not exactly complete, and it needs explanation, but that's what I'm here to do. What makes a person a physicist is that they never stop asking the question "why?" We're like those obnoxious kids that follow up every explanation you throw at them with "why?" but the only difference is that we never never grew out of it. That and we have made a few improvements on our attempts to get the answer.

To illustrate, let me give you a hypothetical progression into physicism. A child is out in the back yard at night and he sees a lightning bug. It sparks his curiosity so he asks his parents, "why does it glow like that?" His parents aren't sure why so the tell him "I dunno, go ask a biologist." So he asks a biologist, who gives the explanation, "certain enzymes and molecules interact with each other inside the bug's abdomen, and these interactions produce light." This satisfies the child for a little bit, but eventually, curiosity gets the better of him, so he asks, "Why do the enzymes and molecules interact like that?" So the biologist, not remembering his biochemistry very well says, "I dunno go ask a chemist."

So the kid goes to a chemist, whose reply is, "Well the molecules are made up of atoms and they are arranged in such a way that these parts are attracted to those parts, and when they get close to each other, energy is released in the form of photons." Again, this explanation is not entirely satisfying so the child asks, "Why are the parts attracted to each other, and why is energy released when they meet?" The chemist replies, "I dunno go ask a physicist."

So the kid goes to a physicist, who tells him, "Well some of the parts have a positive charge, and some of the parts have a negative charge and positive and negative charges attract each other." On a roll now, the child immediately asks, "Why do positive and negative attract?" To which the physicists says "I dunno." "That's all?" says the kid, "You're not going to refer me to anybody else?" The physicist tells him, "There isn't anybody else."

It is at this moment that the child knows he will become a physicist because he needs to find out the answer to this question, "Why?" and that is really the only way to do it. So that is how a physicist is made. It has nothing to do with being good at math (though that certainly helps!) or seeking the bragging rights of successfully completing a quantum mechanics course. It has only to do with relentlessly asking the question "Why?" and never settling for the explanation received.

Ok, so I have to admit, I wasn't nearly this eloquent at the podium. To be quite honest, I threw this together the day before, and I was pretty hungover when I gave it, but I felt like I owed it a good rehash. So consider yourselves lucky for getting the new and improved version.

Now, I just need to work on getting the degree that I'm actually going to use. . . I've only got one more semester left (and then, of course, 6 years of grad school)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Italy just got Orange Crushed

The Netherlands beat Italy 3-0 today in both their first matches of the European Cup. This is the first time Netherlands has beat the Azzurri since 1978 with two goals in the first half by van Nistelrooy and Sneijder, and one in the second by van Bronckhorst. Also, this is the first time Italy has conceded three goals in any European Cup match.

Now I'm not necessarily a crazy Netherlands fan, but this made me really happy today because I absolutely hate Italy. I can't stand their dirty bullying combined with flops every time they get touched by another player. You can imagine my disdain when they won the world cup two years ago. So, though this definitely does not count them out of the tournament by any means, I'm still glad to see it getting off to a bad start for the Italians.

with that said, check out my team, Portugal playing against Czech Republic on Wednesday at 12:00 PM EST.

Never Trust Anything with a Nuclear Envelope

Ok, I may be a bit biased, being a microbiologist and all, but I really believe that prokaryotes are the superior form of life on this planet. Sure they may be referred to as the "lower organisms" and sometimes (somewhat misleadingly) as "less evolved," but these little guys are truly amazing pieces of work.

For one thing, bacteria and archaea have evolved to live in just about every environment imaginable. Now I know what you're thinking: Visions of horny toads in the desert and penguins in the antarctic are floating through your mind. And these adaptations are nothing to ignore, but they can't hold a candle to the prokaryotes' roaring bonfire. Consider the acidophiles and alkaliphiles. These "bugs" live at opposite ends of the pH spectrum, the very low (1-3) and very high (10-12), respectively. Then take a look at the hyperthermophiles who have an optimum growth temperature above 80 degrees Celsius (175 degrees Fahrenheit).

All of these adaptations are impressive in and of themselves, but prokaryotes didn't stop there. No, instead, some have evolved to live in areas of both extremely high temperature and extreme pH. Simply Amazing. And the extreme environments don't stop there. There are organisms that can live in extremes of salinity, oxygen content, and even ionizing radiation. If you look at any corner of the world, you'd be hard-pressed to find one where no prokaryotic life existed.

Another interesting tidbit is eukaryotic dependence on prokaryotes. As you read this, there are bacteria in your intestines synthesizing vitamins that your body can't for you to absorb. Ok, you may say that we don't need them; we can just take multivitamins every morning, but consider this: cows, indeed all ungulates, are incapable of breaking down the cellulose that makes up cell walls in the grass they eat. So how do they digest it? They have special organs in which cultures of microbes break down the cellulose into smaller molecules that the cow is capable of digesting.

If those examples don't impress you much, try this one on for size. Each and every eukaryotic cell depends on its own "domesticated" prokaryote. In humans and all animals, this "domesticated prokaryote" is the mitochondrion. Plants have mitochondria too, but they also harbor chloroplasts, which have prokaryotic cellular origins as well. It is thought (and generally accepted) that these structures began as free-living prokaryotic cells that were engulfed by their larger, nucleus-bearing brethren.

So the next time you reach for the Lysol, take a moment to reflect on the awesomeness of these organisms you are about to wipe from the face of the planet. Don't bother feeling bad though, they wouldn't think twice (or at all in fact) about doing the same to all of us. The difference is, when it comes to one of us wiping the other out completely, they could do it, and we wouldn't stand a chance.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

I have to tell you about one of my guilty pleasures. I am an atheist, but I love reading creationist literature and finding the errors in logic. I suppose it makes me feel better about myself, knowing that there are so many people out there that are stupider than me.

The other thing I like to do is read the blogs of other atheists because they manage to find lots of examples of the stupidity of creationists. One such example is PZ Meyer's blog Pharyngula. He has a really nice mixture of real science and exposition of creationist inanity.

Hopefully, I can provide a similar service to you and provide some fun creationist propaganda. In fact, check out the new Chick Tract. Evidently, evolution leads to a complete lack of morals and a desire to become a god. I guess I'm still waiting for these delusions to get to me.

My First Post

Hello!

I imagine I'm writing this to nobody at all, seeing as I am the only person who knows about my ambition to start a blog, but just on the off chance that there is somebody out there who will waste enough of their time to read this, this is for you.

I have kind of been thinking about starting a blog lately, and I finally broke down and did it. My vision for where this will go is kind of reflected in the title: Ramblings. I don't feel like I have enough expertise to blog on a specific topic, so I'll try to get a well-rounded group of topics. However, that being said, I don't want this to turn into one of the teenage-girl's blogs where they go on and on about what they wore yesterday and what they had for breakfast this morning, so I'll spare you all the boring details of my life and stick to mainly the exciting things like. . . well, like. . . well more exciting things than meals and clothes at least.

So with that, please enjoy!