I love the blogosphere!

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A page embedding the “Boom De Yada” Discovery Channel advert.

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Last week xkcd had a strip paying homage to the Discovery Channel’s current(?) advert. Not having seen the advert, I didn’t really understand it. So, tonight I finally remembered to check out the advert on YouTube, and liked it enough to stick up here; it actually does do a good job of igniting my sense of wonder.

Plus any song that rhymes “arach-a-nids” with “giant squids” gets my vote.

This just in from the WTF department

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A school in Sweden is claiming a student violated other children’s rights by not inviting them to his birthday party. This is not only plainly stupid, it’s a symptom of a much wider problem; the idea that we have the right not to be offended.

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Apparently, in Sweden, people are granted the human right to be invited to any birthday party they want. Bureaucracy ftw!

Joking asside, this is a symptom of something we’re seeing more and more; this pervasive idea that people have the right not to be offended. Yes, it’s pretty harsh not to be invited to a party that everyone else is going to, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to go. You have the right to call the kid a jerk for not inviting you, and you have the right to reciprocally not invite him to your party, but that’s it. It’s his party and it’s his right to decide who’s invited. It’s a pretty stupid, trivial example, but it’s just a symptom of the same sort of thinking that leads people to think they have a right not to have their beliefs challenged or their stupidity ridiculed. It’s a dangerous trend, because often one person’s “right” not to be offended is indirect opposition to someone else’s actual rights. In this case it’s the right of a child to not invite people he doesn’t like into his house, which is important enough, but in more extereme case, it might be someone’s freedom of speech or of expression that’s being suppressed to keep people from being put out, and I don’t care how you dress it; freedom of speech is more important than anyone’s sensibilities.

Conservapedia: nil, Lenski: one

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The Conservapedia crowd have been extremely critical of Richard Lenski and his recent work demonstration the evolution of e.coli cultures in the lab. They eventually challenged him to defend his findings, and, after some, provocation, he came out swinging.

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A week or so ago, I blogged about Richard Lenski and his long-term research into Evolution of e.coli cultures in the lab, that culminated in the evolution of a novel and beneficial trait in one of those cultures. Moreover, that evolution was reproducible from an earlier culture that had a specific mutation but did not exhibit the trait, but not from other cultures without that mutation.  It’s really interesting research, and has the potential to tell us a lot about the mechanisms of evolution.

Of course, because it also, more or less as a side effect, demonstrates quite clearly that evolution happens, the creationists have been all over it, trying to discredit Lenski, his team, and anyone who has anything nice to say about his work. I’m sure there are creationists some who are approaching it at a scientific level, and trying to falsify his findings. I expect that they’ll fail, but I support their attempt. There are others, however, specifically the anti-scientific mob at Conservapedia, who have been predictably foaming at the mouth and ranting, levelling all sorts of unfounded criticisms at Lenski (he’s biased, he’s a hack, it’s a fraud or a hoax or a lie.)

Eventually, one of them got up the courage to put his money where his mouth is and challenge Lenski to defend his findings, and … well it’s worth reading it yourself.

That must be a record

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Firefox managed over 8,000,000 downloads on Download Day 2008. That must be a world record.

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So, Download Day 2008 is done, and they managed slightly over eight million downloads. That’s got to be enough to get them the record. I hope you all contributed.

Of course, there currently is no record for the most downloaded piece of software in a single day, so it’s not a hard one to set. The question is: how long will it stand? And will it be Firefox 4 that breaks it?

Firefox 3 – help set a world record

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At some point today, the next version of Firefox will launch; it’s worth the upgrade, and you get to help set a world-record as well.

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Download Day 2008

At some point in the next day or so Firefox 3 will be released, and they’re aiming to establish the record for the most downloaded piece of software within a single day of release.

Firefox 3 is a great browser; a noticeable improvement over version 2, and much better than any of Microsoft’s efforts (and I’m speaking as a web-user here, not just as an open-source advocate.) Even if you can’t see what all the fuss is about I’d encourage you to find out, and if you do it sooner rather than later, you’ll be part of a setting a world record.

So head over to their world record attempt site and grab the browser if it’s up by the time you read this, or pledge to do so if it’s not. It’ll be worth the few minutes of your time it’ll take.

Edit: It’s now live, you can go and grab it any time you like, and if you do so before 6PM BST tomorrow (18th June 2008) it’ll count for the record attempt.

Edit 2008/06/18 12:00: Three quarters of the way through, and just shy of six-million downloads. It’s a great figure already, and there’s still six hours to go. If you haven’t got hold of it yet, you haven’t missed the chance, and the servers all seem to be coping much better now.

Evolution observed and confirmed in the laboratory (again)

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Richard Lenski has observed and confirmed evolution of e. coli cultures in the lab.

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This is close to a week old now, and I’m not entirely sure how I missed it.

The Daily Kos, is reporting that New Scientist is reporting that Richard Lenski has observed, tested and confirmed the evolution of Citrate digestion in a laboratory culture of e. coli. It’s a pretty interesting read (if a little smug,) and worth your time.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new development; evolution has been observed in the lab (and the wild) countless times. What’s interesting this time is how a gradual accumulation of mutations eventually led to a radical increase in fitness in a reproducible way. It’s a really powerful argument in favour of slow, gradual evolution, rather than the macro-mutations-only caricature the creationists like to throw about.

Don’t expect this to convince the denialists though; the mutation in question took tens of thousands of generations to occur, so they’re bound to claim that at a rate of one beneficial mutation every fourty thousand generations, we’d still be flapping around in the mud. Oh, and expect to hear the the usual chorus: since Lenski is intelligent, this is clearly a case of intelligent design.

iPhone 2

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I’m happy with the reduction in price on the iPhone, but the anaemic new feature list left me a little cold.

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So, by now everyone knows everything there is to know about the iPhone 2, so I don’t have much to add. I thought I’d mention how disappointed I am with it though.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, 3G is a big deal, and GPS is nice, but really… is that it?

The thing is, I don’t even know what I was hoping for; it just wasn’t this: the device that should have launched a year ago. I mean, they didn’t even up the storage to sweeten the deal.

Obviously, I’ll be getting one, due to the device’s only really compelling new feature: its price. O2′s somewhat aggressive pricing means that I can upgrade to one with double the storage and a better data connection for a scant £60, which, I suppose, is nothing to be complaining about.

In fact, maybe it’s churlish to be complaining at all; the iPhone was already a very desirable device — I certainly have yet to regret getting mine, even with only 8GB storage and 2G data — and increasing the spec at all while lowering the price isn’t something you’d usually complain about.

I just can’t help feeling that if the most exciting new feature is a price reduction, that the hype might be a little misplaced this time round.

42 days

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The House of Commons has voted to extend the time prisoners can be held without charge to 42 days.

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So, it went through the Commons, after some wheeler-dealing, and now has to get through the Lords.

At the risk of sounding like someone writing to The Times, I am appalled and disgusted that it’s got this far. There is no justification for holding members of the public for so long. A week sounds about right to me, any more than that is simply wrong. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?

Right now, I’m ashamed that I ever voted Labour, and I never will do again.