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Archive for July, 2009

Appendix Two to Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

H.M.S. Beagle

A was listening to Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, an incredible story of a round the world voyage of exploration that began in 1831 and continued for five years.

The end of the edition I was listening to had two appendices, the first being nautical stuff about the trip and the second being a reprint of the ship captain Robert Fitz Roy’s “Remarks with reference to the Deluge”. It’s basically a argument for literal biblical creationism by Fitz Roy, and it was pretty ironic to find it tacked on to the Voyage. I don’t know the which editions carried it, apparently the Voyage was published in several editions (wikipedia).

The strangest part of Fitz Roy’s argument was his attempt to describe a plausible way that the biblical Deluge, the business with the Ark and world covered by water, could have deposited the many layers of rock and sediment that compose the geological record and which he observed at locations around the globe. In his argument he mentions that the Library of Useful Knowledge, 1829 describes an experiment by Perkins that showed that at a depth of 3000 feet, water is compressed to 1/27 of its volume at the surface. Fitz Roy relates this to a sailor’s experience that in determining depth with a weight and a line, larger weights are required for deeper depths.

Fitz Roy then argues that sea water is very dense in the ocean depths, and that all sorts of objects immersed during the Deluge would sink to a depth where the water was dense enough to make then buoyant, different objects finding a different natural depth, and that these layers would be preserved as the Deluge ebbed.

This is quite remarkable. Water is known now to be nearly incompressible, around 2% at the bottom of the ocean, with the slight changes in ocean water density caused more by temperature and salinity than pressure. This means that Fitz Roy’s argument falls apart. More remarkable is that such a basic fact about water and the oceans was unknown in the 1830’s. Fitz Roy really believed there was a depth in the ocean where cannon balls float, accumulated from the world’s shipwrecks and banging around together in a layer where iron floats in the deep ocean.

‘Noetic sciences’

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

I was listening to the NPR food show, The Splendid Table, and they ended the show with by having Dean Radin from the Institute for Noetic Sciences on to talk about how ‘thinking at’ chocolate makes it better. No, I’m not joking, and it wasn’t April Fools’ day. Ordinary fools day, I guess.

Looking at the Institute for Noetic Sciences (IONS) web site, it looks like this is the place where the California nuts collect. They are still doing psi studies, lots of ‘intentional’ studies which test various ways thinking at something changes it, from prayer and healing to remote viewing to psychokinesis. Not too surprisingly, Deepak Chopra is ‘associated faculty’.

The chocolate study guy, Dean Radin, is an interesting nut. He was a real engineer, then got a Ph.D in psychology from U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then went off the deep end. It’s odd, he uses methods that look quite respectable–the chocolate study was double-blinded–to come to nutty conclusions, and publishes them in nutty niche journals. IONS has its own journal, “Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing”, and disturbingly the NIH’s Pubmed article indexing service includes its articles (see This is by far the craziest journal I’ve ever seen in Pubmed.

Sequencing every species on the planet

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

With next generation sequencing technologies that have become available over the last two years, there is enough DNA sequencing machines that their combined capacity is, at a guesstimate, about 30,000 Gb per year.

How much DNA sequencing is that? Enough to sequence the genomes of 10,000 people per year. In other terms, enough capacity today to sequence every bacteria and virus species in a single year, or every the genome of every species on the planet in 300 years, bacterial genomes being small.

The sequencing technology is improving at a fast clip and I expect that in ten years or so it will be 1000X better (faster and higher capacity sequencing machines). So in ten years, it will be possible to sequence every species on the planet in a single year.

Scanners for macro photography

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Scanners can be used for macro photography, at least the ones with a great depth of focus. The scanners with CCD sensors tend to have a good depth of focus while the thin scanners with a CIS sensor can only focus on objects a mm or two from the glass.

I collected a list of scanners recommended for macro photography.

from here:
EPSON Perfection 3170
from here.
Microtek ScanMaker X6 EPP
Artec AM12S, AM 2400-U Pro
Epson Expression 836XL
3D Pro Scanner
Memtek Memorex SCF 9360P 3D
from here:
Epson Perfection 1240U Scanner
Epson Perfection 1200U

Checking specs, these also look well suited:
Epson Perfection 2480
Epson Perfection V300
Epson Perfection 2450
Epson Perfection 3490