\ Visualizing Evolution: November 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008


Well, as of Saturday, I am an American tourist in Canada for the entire week! I'm not sure how my internet connection will be while I'm there, so this blog may sit neglected until December, but I do plan to visit the Royal Ontario Museum at least once, to see what kinds of new displays they have that visualize evolution (surprise, surprise).

I'm also looking forward to finally seeing what's inside of that weird crystal they built over the course of the two years I actually lived there:
I guess I have a love-hate relationship with it from the outside. I reserve judgment until I see the interior. The dinosaur exhibition should be awesome, though.

In addition to touristy stuff like museums and the CN tower and all that, I also plan to use this time away from my regular life and responsibilities to type my NaNoWriMo book. As of today, I'm exactly on schedule. I mean, to-the-word (33,333 as of Friday). I want to clear 50,000 by Thursday night so I can board my plane the next morning feeling good about having a relaxing weekend. My stats graph may not reflect that depending on internet availability though:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Therapsid Evolution

I spotted this fantastic illustration of therapsid evolution by Carl Buell ("Olduvai George") over at Paleoblog. It's from the Donald R. Prothero book Evolution: What the Fossils say and Why it Matters, which has been in my Amazon 'wish list' for months. With illustrations like this, I pretty much have to click that "check out" button, now.

click for big!

It's similar to other line-of-descent drawings we've already looked at, but he's obviously done a few things here to make his version very dynamic. It reads from bottom-to-top instead of the standard left-to-right, and the pose changes from left to right-facing. Looking at this piece you can't help but see it as an animation, with the animal morphing as it roars and turns its head. Perhaps you even hear the sound of its vocalization change as it becomes more mammalian. How does it sound?

I don't even think he needed that motion blur to get the effect. In fact, if I wasn't as busy as I am, I'd take this thing into Photoshop and erase out the motion blur to prove it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Simpsons visualize evolution

I'm a bit busy with NaNoWriMo: and I'm leaving for Kansas City to see COLDPLAY on Thursday, so there won't be an update here for awhile. So here's that great and surprisingly accurate Simpsons evolution intro. I don't think I've posted this yet... Enjoy!

Monday, November 3, 2008

"M&Ms prove Darwin was right"

This is from Roger Ebert's blog--something someone sent to him. It's amazing:
"I received this message on the blog, but it obviously fits no known topic. The author is something of a mystery: "R. Crutch," no city, no e-mail. But I felt it necessary to share with you. RE

From R. Crutch:

Whenever I get a package of plain M&Ms, I make it my duty to continue the strength and robustness of the candy as a species. To this end, I hold M&M duels.

Taking two candies between my thumb and forefinger, I apply pressure, squeezing them together until one of them breaks and splinters. That is the "loser," and I eat the inferior one immediately. The winner gets to go another round.

I have found that, in general, the brown and red M&Ms are tougher, and the newer blue ones are genetically inferior. I have hypothesized that the blue M&Ms as a race cannot survive long in the intense theater of competition that is the modern candy and snack-food world.

Occasionally I will get a mutation, a candy that is misshapen, or pointier, or flatter than the rest. Almost invariably this proves to be a weakness, but on very rare occasions it gives the candy extra strength. In this way, the species continues to adapt to its environment.

When I reach the end of the pack, I am left with one M&M, the strongest of the herd. Since it would make no sense to eat this one as well, I pack it neatly in an envelope and send it to M&M Mars, A Division of Mars, Inc., Hackettstown, NJ 17840-1503 U.S.A., along with a 3x5 card reading, "Please use this M&M for breeding purposes."

This week they wrote back to thank me, and sent me a coupon for a free 1/2 pound bag of plain M&Ms. I consider this "grant money." I have set aside the weekend for a grand tournament. From a field of hundreds, we will discover the True Champion.

There can be only one."

One fun and engaging way to teach the foundations of natural selection to kids is to lay out large pieces of colored construction paper, representing different 'environments'-- red, green, blue, yellow, and brown--then spread out some M&M's, dim the lights, and let the kids simulate predation and go wild eating for a few minutes.

Then flip on the lights and have them count how many of each color are left in each environment. Bam! Natural selection!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spore as a visualization of evolution... almost.

I was going to do an entry on the dumbification of Spore, but PZ Myers has already covered it better than I ever could,
"What I was looking for in Spore was for someone to take a look with a gamer's eyes at the process of science and extract from it the puzzle-solving essence and make it approachable and entertaining; instead, they seem to have given up on the science and instead created animated plush dolls for amusement's sake."
so head over to Pharyngula and become as depressed as I am about what Spore could have been.

Also, the blog entries this month are going to be few and far between, as I've become caught up in the excitement of NaNoWriMo, which is bound to take up what little writing energy I have left at the end of the work day. Not sure if I'll make the 50,000 words by November 30th, but... so far, so good:
I actually have 3460, but for some reason the widget won't update.
(edit: Hey, look at that! The widget updated! Neat!)

Yes, the book has strong themes about evolution! Yes, I might even finish it in a month, but it won't be easy. In fact, the first person who replies to this post with some short words of encouragement for me gets a character in the book named after them--and you can even decide if he or she gets killed off or not!