Are We Civilized?

In the course of a couple of days we have two dead for being black and 5 dead with many more wounded in Dallas.

We have Isis. We have North Korea. We have had Stalin, Hussein, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Hitler, too many more to mention. We have an entire history based upon war, violence, and mayhem. What are we really? We are supposed to be the smart ones. The tool users. With the brains to figure out how things work, how to improve our lives, how to fix things. Why can’t we fix ourselves?

I have often thought of civilization as a thin veneer. The icing on the cake if you will. That thin outer layer is our so called civil society. The cake underneath is all the rest. All of the bad things we don’t want to talk about or admit we have anything to do with. Our predudjices, our desires, our dislikes, our fears. Dig a little deeper and you will find our hate, bigotry, racism, and other nasties that some of us do work at trying to overcome. Dig deeper still and somewhere in all of that ugliness that is the human condition, and you will find the desire and the will to kill. What? You say you would never do such a thing?

Really?

We all have the capacity and the capability to kill. It is the motive that differs. The situation. The particulars. Prisons are full of people who killed solely because they thought they could get away with it. Think the Hatfields and the Mcoys, revenge and pride are good motives. How about self defense? Would you react in a violent manner to save your own skin, or that of a family member? I would. How about grandma waking up one day and deciding she has had enough of grandpas shit and she whacks him a hammer. It happens. We are human. We react in anger and that anger sometimes kills.

It kills innocent black men, it kills policemen, it kills families, it kills populations.

Now that we have faced up to our true nature, what do we do fix it? Is it even possible to fix an ingrained human condition? I doubt it honestly. If history has shown anything it is our quickness to anger and capacity to kill. We are little better than the animals on the savannah. Indeed that’s where we came from. But despite all of that, we have become civilized to a point. We have huge teeming cities, extensive trade networks, friends and allies all over the globe. We have our neighborhoods, families, and friends. We have people coming together trying to console and/or offer aid those who have lost friends and loved ones, or their homes in times of tragedy. We have so much working for us. But damn it all there are days I think the hoarders with their bunkers just might be the sane ones.

I have hope for humans and civilized society. But I really feel like I am a living part of our history, a continuation of the history behind us. A testament to our true nature that gets swept up under the rug. Underneath the icing.

 

 

So A Guy Walks Into Pet Store…

And finds a scaleless Bearded Dragon. He promptly buys the lucky lizard and has its genome sequenced. Guess what? The gene coding responsible for hair and feathers is the very same gene coding for scales.

This is big, because as many of us evilutionists know, the general pathway of evolution went from fish –> amphibian —> reptile and reptile branched off to birds/mammals. Finding that the same gene coding is responsible for scales —> hair —> feathers (generally speaking) is of course fantastic evidence for common descent. Which is the foundational premise of evolution in the first place.

Another hats off to science moment, and another nail in the dusty old coffin of creationism.

The story is better explained where I found it. @ Pandas Thumb.

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2016/06/reptile-without.html#comment-355144

Wildlife Safari

We gathered up supplies for a two week trip, loaded up the Land Rover, and headed…wait a minute we don’t have a Land Rover! We didn’t need any supplies either. I am a big fat liar.:) I have a glorified mud puddle out in the back yard, some might call it a pond. The pond lies around 35-40′ from the deck at the back of the house. We get migrating ducks from time to time, and other assorted critters through the year and a few days ago one of the boys spotted a Green Heron hanging around. I decided to see if I could capture a few photos.

So I did actually go through all the gathering up the pieces of my photo rig. Which consists of an Orion ED 80 apochromatic telescope, that gets used as a telephoto lens. A homemade bracket that holds the little 16 MP Sony camera in place, and an Orion 17mm Stratus eyepiece. With all of the parts situated this gear allows me to take afocal shots through the telescope. This can be a little tricky with all of the moving parts. You have to align the camera just so over the eyepiece, focus the telescope as best you can using the screen on the back of the camera, then click a button that times the shutter for 2 or 10 second pause after the shutter has been pushed, then you have to lightly push and hold the shutter button just a tad for the autofocus to adjust, then snap the shot. The delay allows any vibration to settle down, hopefully allowing for a better pic. The delay also allows for your target to move out of the shot, but you gotta do what ya gotta do.

No matter who you are or what your setup is the key I think to getting good photos is to take a gazillion pictures. Out of a gazillion pics there are bound to be a few that come out decent. So over the course of a couple of days I braved alligators, tigers, sharks, tiger sharks even, wait! No I’m dreaming again, all I did do was brave the extreme Tennessee humidity and hot hot summer temps, and took several shots of our Green Heron visitor, as well as a couple of more long term residents of the pond.

First up is a dragonfly I spotted. I thought what the heck let’s see if we can get it. It came out better than expected. Note many of the pics have been modified this time with a photo editor that exists in this Win 7 machine. I used an auto adjust feature that removes noise and adjusts for color/tint/contrast/exposure etc. And then fine tuned by my eye till the final result. Mr. dragonfly:

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I really did not think the dragonfly would be that good, I know it’s far from a pro shot with a $10,000 rig, but I’m on a budget sub $500 rig (I got the telescope used for $300, retails for $500. The heavy duty Bogen tripod I have cost me $100 from E-Bay, the camera was given to me, and I built from scratch the camera holding device and the telescope alt/az mount.) and it is what it is.

Next up, while I was shooting the heron, I noticed a couple of snakes that had moved in without my knowledge, and thought it would be great if I could catch one, but they were always swimming by then moving out of sight. Frustrating. Then using a pair of binoculars and panning around I spotted a snake on a branch overhanging the water. Perfect!

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And another:

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Now for our Green Heron. I had several shots that came out pretty good, so you’re going to see a lot of heron.

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This next one I was in a rush, there was a commotion and I suspected the heron had caught something, sure enough he did. However there is some vignetting (a fancy word for a light cut off in the optical path.) It is out of focus as well, but you can clearly see the S.O.B. has one of my minnows!

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Guess what? More heron! I love the inverted reflection.

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This last one may be the best shot I got.

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That wraps it up for this safari. The trip home was a long arduous journey, I had to walk all the way from the deck back into the house:)

We used to be able to adjust the photo size when we uploaded. Then when the photo was inserted into a post you were able to click to expand it. I can’t seem to find out how to accomplish that with the WP changes. If anyone knows the procedure please elaborate in the comments.

 

 

Ugly People And Trust

I thought this was kind of interesting. A study shows that children as well as adults are less likely to trust ugly people. The study was a two step process where our groups of children and adults, were exposed to 200 photographs of male faces with neutral expressions and a direct gaze. There were two tests spaced a month apart. The first test was based upon how participants judged how trustworthy the people were.  The second test a month later, was based upon how participants judged attractiveness.

The studies were cross referenced and they found that both groups judged that the faces thought to be more trustworthy were also thought to be more attractive. The study showed that this phenomenon was stronger in the adults.

So apparently, and I guess I knew this already, that we all tend to make snap judgements based upon how people look. Now I know from life experiences that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, but again I think we all have this tendency to some degree. It is part of our human existence. A trait we all share regardless of its attractivenes or lack thereof.

I can tell you I have met people I did not trust the moment I met them. I can also tell you I have met people who did not trust me at all right off the bat as well. I therefore, based upon this study, must assume I am ugly😉

Children less likely to trust ugly people

Go Ahead, Call Me A Bird Brain

http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2016/06/study-gives-new-meaning-to-the-term-bird-brain/

This news is straight out of Vanderbilt University in my home state of Tennessee.

It has long been a mystery as to why birds were comparitvely as smart, or smarter than other animals, including primates, considering the size of their brains. We are all aware that bird brains are noticeably smaller than other creatures assumed to have measurable intelligence. Probably something to do with their smaller heads, sorry I could’t help myself:)

Well they have found that bird brains have considerably more neurons in the forebrain area (which is the area intelligence emminates from) than previously assumed. I’m going to copy/paste a sizable portion of the story:

“We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns. That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates,” said Herculano-Houzel, who recently joined the Vanderbilt psychology department.

That is possible because the neurons in avian brains are much smaller and more densely packed than those in mammalian brains, the study found. Parrot and songbird brains, for example, contain about twice as many neurons as primate brains of the same mass and two to four times as many neurons as equivalent rodent brains.

Not only are neurons packed into the brains of parrots and crows at a much higher density than in primate brains, but the proportion of neurons in the forebrain is also significantly higher, the study found.

“In designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with: the size and number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers,” said Herculano-Houzel, “and in birds we find that nature has used both of them.”

Although she acknowledges that the relationship between intelligence and neuron count has not yet been firmly established, Herculano-Houzel and her colleagues argue that avian brains with the same or greater forebrain neuron counts than primates with much larger brains can potentially provide the birds with much higher “cognitive power” per pound than mammals.” /end quote.

Fascinating stuff. This helps us bridge that gap of knowledge we had been lacking in the puzzle of why birds seemed so smart compared to brain size. I love it when science comes to the rescue. So yeah, I have my bird brain moments, and am proud of it!

It Was A Matter Of Time

I hate to say it, but I have been expecting something like this Orlando shooting to happen. Didn’t know when or how, but I knew this day was coming. I suspect most of us did. Right now my gut is tied up in a knot and I’m torn between anger and dismay.

I am afraid this is the world we live in now. Chickenshits with guns seeking soft targets for the sake of some twisted ideology or their moment of fame. I’m not going to go on an anti Muslim rant, there will be plenty of those in the next few days. I’m not going to have a gun control knee jerk reaction either, there will be plenty of that as well.

I am going to urge people to be aware of their surroundings. If you are in a building, watch the door. Know where the exits are. If you are in an open public space, or anywhere for that matter, take a moment every few minutes to scan for potential threats. You never know when or where the next crazy ass religious nut, or just regular old crazy ass nutjob, is going to go off.

I try to teach my kids situational awareness on a regular basis. This post is an extension of that. I was taught defensive driving in my early teens. To always be looking for potential hazards on the roads. Anything that moves or could move is a hazard. Trees on the roadside are hazards, especially if it is windy/stormy. Wet roads are hazards. The list goes on, but most of the hazards you will encounter in life will be people. Be they in cars, or playing in their yards, or riding a bike, or carrying guns. You can’t let your guard down, and while this thing isn’t exactly out of control yet, I fear it will only get worse with time.

Recognizing a hazard is the first step to avoiding one. So pay attention. Don’t live in fear, live in a state of awareness. I’m done with my lecture now, and hope all my friends are all well out there in world.

 

 

 

Light Pollution

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. Light pollution, for those of you who may have not heard, is the result of all of us humans who are afraid of the dark. These millions of people, afraid of the damn dark, insist on having their porch lights on from dusk till dawn, and never give a moments thought to the “insecurity lights” (a so called security light that comes on at night, giving some perception of security) that burn away all hours of the night.

Zillions of streetlights lining the streets and highways. For what? Do we not have lights on our cars? Parking lots with unshielded lighting, light blazing away long after the store has closed. Why? Stores with no one in them, lights on 24/7. Why? Does anyone even think? Not only about the light pollution here, but what about the cost? How much money does the electric company need to make?

Is anyone aware that for thousands, nay millions of years, the creatures of the night have not needed artificial lighting to find their way? No, I think the bat and the opossum and the hoot owl have done just fine without them.

Is anyone aware that all of this light actually disrupts nocturnal habits for wildlife?

Is anyone aware that due to all of this light the stars are washed out so that they can’t be seen from most cities? Does anyone even look up enough anymore to care?

I do. I have been an amateur astronomer for many years. I’m always looking up. I have neighbors though who are afraid of the dark. Their outdoor lighting makes it darn near impossible anymore for me to enjoy the hobby. The light is a hideous monstrosity that is the bane of astronomers everywhere. It ruins dark adaptation, it bounces off the vinyl siding and lights up my yard to the point I could read a newspaper out there at midnight.

Safety. That word is the mainstay of the light polluter. “The lights make us safe.” Do they? No, they do not. Study after study tends to show that lighting only makes it easier for criminals to see what they are doing. So, no. Night lighting makes no one safer. The only thing lighting at night does is assuage the deluded. Those poor bastards who are merely afraid of the dark. And ain’t got the gonads to admit it.

So, what brought forth my ire this fine scorching June day? A story posted at one of my favorite haunts, Science Daily. Put out by the fine folks at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Entitled : “Milky Way Now Hidden From One Third Of Humanity.”

Now a lot of people know of the Milky Way. A bright band of stars and dust that streaks through the sky at night. This band of stars actually being one of the arms of our galaxy. There are literally a thousand treasures of the night sky hidden away in the wondrous galactic arm. I know, I have seen them. Many people have never even seen the Milky Way.

Several years ago one of my brats had some friends over, it was a clear, beautiful evening. I had my big scope out in the yard all setup and cooled down. So I invited the kids out. When they came outside I said “Behold, the Milky Way.” And I pointed it out, and showed them how it streaks across the sky. One of them actually gasped in awe. She had never seen the Milky Way. There are so many poor, lost, misguided souls who have never taken the time to look up on a clear night.

With the advent of modern light pollution, and with the general trend getting worse, the night sky, which I consider a treasure of humanity, is ever receding away. To be lost forever for our kind. This treasure of humanity lost because people are afraid of the dark.

This first link is to the “Milky Way Now Hidden From One Third Of Humanity” story. The following links are all dedicated to the premise that street lights make no one any safer.

http://www.colorado.edu/news/features/milky-way-now-hidden-one-third-humanity?utm_source=Colorado.edu&utm_medium=Milky%20Way%20now%20hidden%20from%20one-third%20of%20humanity&utm_content=News%20and%20events&utm_campaign=Homepage

http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/new-research-streetlights-dont-actually-reduce-crime-or-accidents.html

https://psmag.com/streetlights-might-not-make-you-safer-7de92a524348#.107d00qs1

http://gizmodo.com/streetlights-dont-actually-prevent-crime-1722056358

Lighting, Crime and Safety

Don’t be afraid of the dark. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Look up. You might see something that inspires you. You might find some serenity. You might be humbled by the vastness of the universe. There is nothing to fear in the darkness. Only fear itself.

Turn off those damned lights!:)