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Letters to Myself
Monday, 23 January 2006

Nothing is easier than to identify one's own favorite political, economic, historical, and moral convictions with the gospel. That gives one a neat, convenient, but altogether too easy advantage over one's fellows. If my ideas are the true ones--and I certainly will not entertain them if I suspect for a moment that they are false!--then, all truth being one, they are also the gospel, and to oppose them is to play the role of Satan.

This is simply insisting that our way is God's way and therefore, the only way. It is the height of impertinence.

Nibley, "Beyond Politics", _BYU Studies_ 1974

Posted by jcobabe at 11:37 PM MST
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Saturday, 7 January 2006
Intelligent Design
Why does it so frighten the dogmatic preachers of "science"?

As far as I can tell, the "intelligent design" people think that evolution just isn't a closed book. We don't have empirical proof that people evolved from monkeys.

I feel perfectly entitled to so characterize evolution. This seems to be the only way evolutionists can deal with their own popular description of "intelligent design". They say it simply boils down to Creationism, which is dismissed out of hand as moronic drivel.

In fact, the idea that God created things doesn't sit well with some of them. Somehow these few elitists feel so vastly superior to the majority of the rest of the world, where a belief in divine presence and influence prevails.

I think it amounts to little more than intellectual snobbery.

A few areas where us moronic "creationists" can still amuse ourselves at the expense of the evangelical evolutionists.

I have the most fun with recipes for "primordial soup".

For more than 50 years disciples of Miller and Urey have been striving to produce a single molecule of protein. Without much success.

Miller's experiments were supposed to emulate some imagined conditions in a primitive world that might have caused amino acids to form and spontaneously organize into a protein, which would of course then instantly fold itself up into an amoeba. From there it is just a short leap to monkeys and humans.

Miller's simple lab experiment quickly yielded numerous amino-acids and related compounds, but nothing very interesting has ever happened after that, in spite of endless convoluted variations and permutations. Apparently you invariably end up with a flask full of overcooked dilute amino acids, not even nice for hot lunch on a chilly day.

This is problematic because it leaves the evolutionists without a foundation to stand on. Tracing the origins of life through the "fossil record" and back to nowhere leaves one with a terribly unsatisfied feeling. And it leaves us with one area where evolution science lacks empirical evidence to accomodate any of the currently popular theoretical models for the origins of life.

Miller's experimental designs are also problematic, since he knows exactly what reagents are required to sweeten the pot for the production of amino acids. His methodology is to start there and work backwards, rather than attempting to deduce actual primordial conditions and duplicate them. While this approach might give the best chance for accomplishing his goal of spontaneous protein synthesis, there is little evidence to indicate that such conditions ever existed in the "primordial soup" world.

All this effort expended to try to produce a few proteins. And meanwhile, the simplest organisms on earth do it without the slightest fuss.


Posted by jcobabe at 12:45 AM MST
Updated: Saturday, 7 January 2006 12:54 AM MST
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Saturday, 3 December 2005
Digital divide
Mood:  not sure
Topic: Computing
Read about a new scheme to provide commodity-priced computer systems to all the schoolkids in third-world countries.

BBC article on Green Machine"

This might be pure esoteric impenetrability, but I wanted to add rather parenthetically that wifi networks have not been known to form spontaneously from primordial soup. Distributed wifi coverage is somewhat complicated to implement and requires some supporting infrastructure with ongoing technical maintenance. Larger networks often have problems with interference and signal degradation.

Will this project also distribute and install the wifi infrastructure?

In a village with no electricity, how will the wifi routers be powered?

What happens when problems arise in the infrastructure? Lightning strikes a router? Water buffaloes stampede across a network concentrator? Monsoon winds topple a repeater tower?

I suppose these kinds of questions have been asked, but I have not seen the answers. Just pie-in-the-sky praise for the concept of getting everyone plugged in.

I just cannot help imagining that somebody in this elaborate scheme is thinking about all the ways money can be diverted from expensive grandiose projects like this. Imagine your company contracting to build a million of these little green boxes. Or securing a grant to install and maintain wifi networks through dozens of villages and towns.

Perhaps I am completely wrong, and it won't turn out like so many other UN-affiliated do-gooder schemes.

Posted by jcobabe at 9:07 PM MST
Updated: Saturday, 3 December 2005 9:12 PM MST
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Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Web design
Topic: Computing
In my usual mindless meandering fashion, I accidently got infatuated with the process of designing web pages a few weeks ago. So I cranked out a dozen different versions of homepages for our family webs at cobabe.org and my other personal stuff at tripod. I haven't updated my pages for nearly five years. By comparison with current stuff on the web, they were looking pretty lame.

I was surprised -- and a little set back -- to find that web programming has actually become a subject with quite a substantial depth. Though thankfully, not quite as expansive as astronomy. :-)

Originally the committee that developed the HTML standard envisioned rather simple requirements. The web quickly outgrew all of those foundational ideas.

Web browsers and "standards" have evolved in a rough-and-tumble fashion. It has been sadly depressing to watch Microsoft establish such a dominating presence, with IE eventually brow-beating most others into oblivion, much to the detriment of the internet browsing public. Early on, Microsoft apparently decided to cater to commercial internet interests. Their browser product is packed to the gills with every concession to commercial interests. Most who use IE don't realize how they put themselves at the mercy of commercial exploitation.

After trying every alternative along the way, now I'm using Firefox. It seems to be becoming very popular. I'm hoping more people will discover how nice it is to NOT use IE, to not be subject to every marketing splash that wants to smear advertising all over the screen. I use the Firefox AdBlock extension and am very seldom bothered by pop-ups or animated blinking or screaming or obnoxious music or even unwanted marginalia. I'm in control of the material displaying on my screen, and have the final veto over everything that comes across.

Anyway, I digress. Though the HTML idea was a marvelous one at inception, it fell far short of the current requirements. The HTML presentation approach is basically to assume that data should simply flow across virtual pages, without imposing much in the way of external structure. This works fine for naked unadorned text, but is not satisfying when adding the elaborate graphics and controls we use so much now. Without careful structuring the page elements fall into an unintelligble jumble.

Because of the very stubborn underlying browser bias, I have experienced a lot of frustration just trying to get web page elements to display as I want. Now I have resorted to CSS2 methods to order my web elements. This after I discovered that many commercial sites on the web use this approach.

In fact it appears that I am somewhat of an anachronism with my preferred hands-on approach to web programming. I like to write the code myself, instead of letting a web page generator tell me what to do. I use a text editor.

I'd probably still be coding in x86 assembler if it was still practical. Most of my page output is now coming from server-side CGI scripts. Pretty cool stuff, dynamically generated HTML, all appropriate for new-age high-tech web surfing. Actually it's all still pretty cranky, but I'm getting the hang of it. Now that I actually know what I want to do, I need to go back and start all over again to get it done right. Isn't it always like that? :-)

One other frustration I have encountered is getting things to curve gracefully. Computer displays just don't do that very well, at least not yet. Just looking at the curves and graduated color columns on the Smartgroups page gives a good example. Everything with a curve radius or color gradient is a fixed graphical element, presented from a boilerplate GIF file. Some artist painstakingly rendered these shapes using an art program. Browsers are too dumb to know how to draw anything but straight lines. I'm using GIMP to fix up my graphics. It is a very capable graphics editor, but doesn't have all the fancy builtin features you'd get with a fancy HTML generator.

Anyway, I'm way too cheap to buy Dreamweaver.

Posted by jcobabe at 7:32 PM MDT
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Wednesday, 4 May 2005
One-liners from Judy...
How Do You Catch a Rabbit?
Unique Up On It.

How Do You Catch a Tame Rabbit?
Tame Way, Unique Up On It.

How Do Crazy People Go Through The Forest?
They Take The Psycho Path

How Do You Get Holy Water?
Boil The Hell Out Of It.

What Do Fish Say When They Hit a Concrete Wall?
Dam!

What Do Eskimos Get From Sitting On The Ice too Long?
Polaroid's

What Do You Call a Boomerang That Doesn't work?
A Stick

What Do You Call Cheese That Isn't Yours?
Nacho Cheese.

What Do You Call Santa's Helpers?
Subordinate Clauses.

What Do You Call Four Bullfighters In Quicksand?
Quattro Sinko..

What Do You Get From a Pampered Cow?
Spoiled Milk.

What Do You Get When You Cross a Snowman With a Vampire?
Frostbite.

What Lies At The Bottom Of The Ocean And Twitches?
A Nervous Wreck.

What's The Difference Between Roast Beef And Pea Soup?
Anyone Can Roast Beef.

Where Do You Find a Dog With No Legs?
Right Where You Left Him.

Why Do Gorillas Have Big Nostrils?
Because They Have Big Fingers.

Why Don't Blind People Like To Sky Dive?
Because It Scares The Dog.


What Kind Of Coffee Was Served On The Titanic?
Sanka.

What Is The Difference Between a Harley And a Hoover?
The Location Of The Dirt Bag.

Why Did Pilgrims' Pants Always Fall Down?
Because They Wore Their Belt Buckle On Their Hat.

What's The Difference Between a Bad Golfer And a Bad Skydiver?
A Bad Golfer Goes, Whack, Dang! A Bad Skydiver Goes Dang! Whack.

How Are a Texas Tornado And a Tennessee Divorce The Same?
Somebody's Gonna Lose A Trailer


Posted by jcobabe at 3:36 PM MDT
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2005 5:30 AM MDT
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Thursday, 28 April 2005
Future of Evolution
Topic: philosophy
Obviously, y'all have not kept up with StarTrek-class science. It is common knowledge that the warp drive can break through any space-time barriers, given a stressful enough scenario (and corny enough scripting), with Scotty in the engine room and a handy supply of fresh dilithium crystals.

We don't know the limits of technology. It may be that we can eventually accomplish anything we are capable of dreaming.

In application to evolution, it is evident that self-directed forces in the hands of humans at least have the potential to abruptly transcend any such gentle force of nature, however implacable. We are at the edge of a huge unknown chasm, ready to take the leap. We now have or are quickly developing the ability to manipulate all the forces that, given naturalistic science assumptions, would normally drive the evolution process. All the rules about evolution are changed, subject to our discretion.

Any diabetic who uses insulin can tell you about the practical implications of this point.

As with every such cusp in decision-making, the real question for evolution does not necessarily have a good rational answer.

Where do we want to go next?

(...segue into ST theme music...)

Posted by jcobabe at 10:40 AM MDT
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Evolution and DNA
Topic: science
This is a fascinating ongoing discussion from the internet, on DNA and evolution.

Kendell Hyde quoted: "The rate of base substitution in mtDNA is much higher than nuclear DNA. An estimate of the initial rate of sequence divergence is 20x10-9 per site per year per evolutionary line (this is 2% sequence divergence per million years between pairs of lineages; 10 times faster than the highest rates in nuclear DNA)."

Restating this number for nuclear DNA, the base rate substitution is about one per line per year (actually 1.5, considering 3x109 bases). Rich, I am trying to be very clear about this number, which I have seen several places.

DHB quoted several days ago that human and gorilla beta hemoglobin are 99.3% the same. The beta hemoglobin has 147 amino acids, or a little over 400 bases. .7% difference would be 2 or 3 bases. Given the number of humans, each year every DNA base could be changed by the process above more than once, so any single change would be easy, somewhere within the human population. It is the second change that requires some thought.

Most mutations in working DNA, the exons and control sequences, are thought to be fatal, and some of those sequences are highly conserved, like being the same in yeast and Homo. However, just looking at the base rate substitution as above, the probability of another change in the 400 base beta hemoglobin chain is 400/3x109 per year. If that change has to be a specific base, and a specific type of substitution (of A, G, C, T) the chance becomes 1/4 per 3x109 per year, or about 10 billion years to get the correct 2nd substitution. If there are more than one person who got one correct mutation, then the probability goes to maybe several in 10 billion years. However, it has only been several million years since Homo and gorilla diverged. And if there are 3 bases to be changed by random mutation, that multiplies the probability by about 1/10 billion, or 1 chance every 1018 years.

The more we find out about exactly how the genome works, the more difficult it is to explain how natural random processes could be the source of evolution.

I was reading in the current Sci Am, where an article explains the way cells produce proteins from DNA. It says that there are about 150 proteins involved in the splitting and copying of the DNA. I would guess that a cell without those proteins available would not be able to reproduce any proteins. I would think that the sperm and egg contain a set of those copying proteins. I understand that some of the very simple single celled organisms use a simpler copy method, but it would seem that even they have to have the necessary support system to copy any DNA. Makes me wonder just how complex the first cell would have to be in order to make the first copy.

Carl Cox

Posted by jcobabe at 8:39 AM MDT
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Welfare performance metrics
Topic: politics
It seems ironic to me that so many welfare bureacrats reporting on their performance first mention the size of their ever-growing budget and appropriations. As if the massive treasure they expend in their efforts is somehow an accurate measure of actual social benefits.

In the reality of things, the best economic indicator of a really beneficial welfare project would be a rapidly shrinking budget. Because any welfare institution that produces a lasting and significant benefit ought to put itself right out of business.

Posted by jcobabe at 5:33 AM MDT
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Dyson spheres
Dreaming about dyson spheres --

Dyson's sphere was the product of considering the classic physics problem -- the heat death of local systms, and eventually, the entire universe.

Cosmologists started thinking about this along with the evolution of understanding about how stars in our universe represent the ultimate primary energy source. We realized that a star is basically an engine that runs on the matter-to-energy conversion process of nuclear fusion. Like all other such processes, subject to the second law of thermodynamics, these fusion engines will eventually start running out of gas -- or hydrogen, as the case may be. Some day the stars will cool off and die.

If we are thinking on an extended time scale, just casually tossing around billions of years, we can project a time when human civilization might be threatened by this approaching "heat death". Since we require the energy that comes from the stars to fuel our own existence, when the sun starts running out of gas, so will we.

Dyson figured that one way to forestall the inevitable demise of human culture would be to maximize our collection and use all of the energy coming from the sun. Right now, most of the sun's energy production radiates out into space. Dyson envisioned a construct like a shell, surrounding a star, which would effectively intercept nearly all the solar energy coming from the sun. His original idea was to construct a huge array of moderately-sized platforms, something resembling the solar panels that some use for generating power, only on a collosal scale. These platforms would orbit the sun at about the same distance as the earth's current orbital path, effectively surrounding the whole diameter of the star. Later development of Dyson's theme resulted in the idea of a solid spherical shell construct that the term "dyson sphere" now evokes.

Posted by jcobabe at 5:20 AM MDT
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Anthropic Principle
Funny word, anthropic. Sounds like some kind of graphic.

Can't sleep tonight. I'm dizzyly spinning around the cosmos -- contemplating "The Anthropic Principle". I looked it up in the Wikipedia -- Anthropic Principle. It means that the universe we can see looks to us as though it fits us like a glove.

Some are rather surprised at this striking coincidence. If things were even minutely different, by a particle of a degree, we could not possibly be here. In the development everything would have fragmented into disorganized chaotic bits and pieces with no purpose or meaning. Seemingly, only the most complex rigorously orchestrated and exacting choreography put us where we stand, a grand production that has occupied eons of time in the staging of this scene.

From our perspective this is an easy judgement. We already know that Heavenly Father created all this just for us. He has told us so. Not everyone is in possession of such assurance, so they argue a lot and entertain lots of doubts. When the day comes that we finally settle our differences, there will be no more doubts.

Isn't it just so grand that everything in cosmology seems to have a hyperlink that shifts us right back into the gospel. The anthropic principle becomes just a fancy label for Alma's Reply, the answer to Korihor's solipsism (Alma 30:41).

All things testify of Christ.

Amen.

Posted by jcobabe at 5:18 AM MDT

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