Monthly Archives: September 2008

Of unlikely black holes and the excitement of particle physics

I’m sure you’ve seen all the media hype lately over the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva earlier this week. And you might also be tired of all the “end of the world” jokes over the teeny-tiny possibility that the particle physicists having all that fun with their $8-billion sub-atomic racetrack might accidently create a black hole that would swallow the earth. Well, the machine is on, no black holes yet, and the media will likely move on, shrugging its shoulders that the world is still here, almost as if they might have preferred reporting from the event horizon of a black hole; what a scoop that would be! But let’s not let this teaching moment go to waste, shall we? Let’s all learn some more actual physics while the topic is still hot. So, if you are still curious about the true significance of the collider and why all these physics nerds are so excited about it, you should read Brian Greene’s op-ed piece in today’s NYT: The Origins of the Universe – A Crash Course. And if that crash course whet’s your appetite, read Sean Carroll’s answer to “What will the LHC find?” where he even gives us the likelihoods of various outcomes, including the detection of the Higgs Boson (95%), Dark Matter (15%), Warped Extra Dimensions (10%), Black Holes – tiny, unstable, transient ones (1%), stable Black Holes that could swallow the earth, along with its worried crackpots (10-25%; yes, that means 0.0000000000000000000000001%), God (10-20%; indeed, more likely than the stable black hole, but not likely enough to make me go to the temple to place Pascal’s wager), and a whole list of other possible known and unknown additions to the sub-atomic menagerie. Sean was also live-blogging the momentous switching on of the LHC, and you might want to bookmark Cosmic Variance if you want to keep up once the physicists actually start hurling those protons at each other in a few days (so far they’ve only been racing the protons all together in one direction, making sure everything is working!). If all that is a bit too much, the visual stylings of PHD comics ought to give you some relief.

Now, that should put you in the mood for the joint Biology-Physics Colloquium this afternoon at 3:00 where Fred Ringwald will talk about “Life Beyond Earth“! So if you are in Fresno, come on by, and maybe we can talk some more about all this afterwards… perhaps even over a drink!

Evolutionary ecology of city life at the Central Valley Café Scientifique tonight

Tonight, the Central Valley Café Scientifique presents a talk by yours truly! Here’s the announcement:

Of junk food, city jive, & homelessness: the evolutionary ecology of city life

Dr. Madhusudan Katti, Dept. of Biology, California State University, Fresno

Monday, Sep 8, 2008, 6:30-8:30 PM

North India Grill

80 W Shaw Ave.,Clovis, CA 93612 ☎ (559) 325-7788 In the Village Square Shopping Center, S/W of Shaw at Minnewawa

Go fishing in the bay for dinner, or fish KFC out of the dump – what’s an urban gull to eat? Scarf up the human handouts and you can start breeding early – but can a suburban scrub jay parent raise a family on that kind of food? What’s with the high-pitch songs of the Dutch urban tits? Why are there, often, more birds of fewer kinds in cities than outside them? And why might rich neighborhoods have more bird species than poorer neighborhoods?

As it turns out, recent research on these questions suggests that birds flock to cities (as do monkeys, raccoons and other of our urban commensals) for reasons not all that different from our own. I will draw upon research from my laboratory and elsewhere to explore the evolutionary ecology of how some species may become habitual urban dwellers, and what we might do to allow others to coexist with us amid sprawling cities.

And remember that the Central Valley Café Scientifique meets on the first Monday of every month (except this one because we had labor day last week!).

For more information, visit the website, and/or sign up to the Google Group.

Post Labor Day Carnivals!

If you are looking for some good evolutionary reading material as you continue readjusting to the start of the new school year, head on over to En Tequila es Verdad for the Labor Day edition of the The Tangled Bank. Some interesting links there, including one to my own post on magnetic cows. And you can find the earlier summer editions of this carnival by clicking on the badge to the right.

Sycamore Canyon has the artsy-fartsy 82nd edtion of I and the Bird, following up on Seabrooke’s art gallery approach to showcase the 81st edition.

Let me also, belatedly, note that while I was away on the road trip to Oregon, the 18th edition of Oekologie was hosted by Seeds Aside. Oekologie is yet to find the next ring-master, however, so I’m a bit concerned about its future. If it hadn’t been the start of a new semester, I might have hosted it again – but I hope someone else steps up, and soon, for I’m sure you’ll find this carnival worthwhile too.

And don’t miss the 2nd edition of the Giant’s Shoulder, the new monthly event focusing entirely on classic papers in science, hosted by the Lay Scientist.

Now even this little sampling of the many blog carnivals featuring biology should keep you happily occupied and out of trouble for some time! And the next editions of these excellent carnivals will be here pretty soon as well (and I’ll try to keep you posted on those intermittently as always), although by that time you might well be distracted by Spore!! If so, happy evolving – and don’t forget to let me know how well the game’s mechanisms of evolution correspond to what has been documented in the real world.

Why are godfearing people so callous towards those in the paths of hurricanes?

And it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are Republican or Democrat in this country! Especially at this particular juncture in the political cycle of the presidential election, they are both willing to pray to the invisible man in the sky to make it rain on the other party’s parade – no matter who else gets soaked or drowns in the process!! What is with these people?!

First it was James Dobson calling upon his flock to pray for a storm to ruin Obama’s rock-star speech in the open stadium in Denver on thursday. That was hardly surprising, though, given how quick Dobson and his ilk are at praying for everything, and crediting god with raining destruction upon what they see as the evils of the world, such as the city of New Orleans, or the Democratic party. What else can one do but laugh it off, especially when no rain fell upon Denver?

But then, Gustav starts building up and bearing upon the Gulf coast, with New Orleans once again in its crosshairs. And what does one see from that lefty gadfly Michael Moore, but this interview, where he too is crediting god with being present and just, by timing this new hurricane’s landfall around New Orleans to coincide with the Republican convention being held way upstream along the same Mississippi river in Minnesota!! I couldn’t believe he’d actually said what he was saying – nor that he would then share that interview on youtube and his mailing list. How daft do you have to be, or politically blinkered (or worse, self-serving), to not realize when its an appropriate time to be ironic and when it is not? He has his defenders (and I might have been among them, but not this time) who are trying to focus on his ironic intent, and the fact that he immediately backtracked on TV – and I suppose he didn’t quite mean it in the same serious way that Dobson was calling upon god to rain on Obama’s speech. Moore has subsequently tried to clarify his stance with an “open letter to god” – but again, he can’t help but credit god with the hurricane and its timing; and add his own prayer asking that god kill that hurricane in its path before it wreaks further havoc on the gulf coast; and gloat over the fact that the FEMA man charged with the emergency response this time shares Dubya’s initial and Moore’s own name! He (and his defenders) also point out the fact that he did more in the immediate aftermath of Katrina than Dobson / Falwell (who were crediting god with cleansing New Orleans) or Bush/McCain (who were busy enjoying the latter’s birthday cake!). Does that make it ok for him to keep suggesting (even with tongue-in cheek) that Gustav is some sort of retribution for the republicans’ poor response after Katrina?

I’m not so sure that this letter lets him off the hook for his own god-bothering insensitivity this time. To those pharyngulites who are ready to accept Moore’s irony and mea culpa, I have to ask – why turn a blind eye to Moore’s catholicism in this instance, when Stephen Colbert’s much more overt irony irritated them so much when directed against atheists? You blamed his being a fairly active catholic then – why go soft on Moore’s religiosity? merely because he’s directing his “irony” against republicans? where’s the consistency – atheists?

Meanwhile Gustav has turned threatening enough for McCain to call for a suspension of most of his party’s convention activities on Monday. Good for him, and let’s hope the govt. gets its response right this time around! But I’m not praying for that… just watching the hurricane build again with increasing dread…