Monday, June 30, 2008

Gambling is bad. Very bad.

I'm currently taking my aunt and cousin around scenic spots in currently very smoky (from the (originally) ~650 fires) California. We've spent several days in San Francisco (Alcatraz, cable cars, etc.), gone to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and toured Lassen Volcanic National Park where many of the spectacular views were only so-so or non-existent due to thick smoke. I should have some pictures later, after I can download them. Right now, we're at Lake Tahoe, where the smoke has cleared a little, staying on the Nevada side.

My aunt has never gambled before. Last year, she apparently bet on some horse races, but she's never been anywhere like Stateline, Nevada. You know. That den of iniquity. We got $10 off each room because we signed up for their Casino card, had a nice cheap prime rib dinner, went for a walk, and then left my cousin in the room with my computer (free wireless internet) while we went to the casino.

My aunt didn't want to play much. She lost £30 when she went to the horse races last year, and she didn't know how to work a one armed bandit. I lost $3 showing her how to use one, and then she lost $3 on the same machine and said she was done. I then put more money in a different machine, played for a couple of minutes and won $90. My aunt got so excited, she put money - in the same machine - and a few minutes later also won $90. We decided to quit while we were ahead. We were both shrieking with laughter. We took photos holding our winnings, and then realized that with all the giggling and waving money around, we were making ourselves easy marks, so (still with much giggling) went into the bar and had a celebratory drink.

I think this has been the highlight of her trip so far.

I hope we aren't contributing to the delinquency of my cousin. She turns 16 on Thursday. When we got back to the rooms we tried to tell her that gambling was bad, and that she should NEVER do it, but it was difficult through all the giggling. I don't think she believed us.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cats o' four tails

Cats are wonderful, and great to have around on a cold winters night (note my ubiquitous fuzzy red blanket - aka, the cat magnet)

But sometimes they have to be disciplined. An Engineers Guide to Cats gives some really good examples of discipline, and in fact, Bill feels that Corporal Cuddling should be used daily - just to keep them in line.

Here, Isis and Smokey are having a minor tiff in which they are repeatedly whacking each other in the face. This often escalates until one leaps on the other and pins her to the ground.

When this happens, I have found that separating them and sending them to their box works well. Sort of like when I used to send my son to his room, except smaller.

Here are Isis and Alice being punished. They hate this, you can tell. Alice is taunting Isis in the first photo, but it wasn't long before it was her turn.

(Yes, those are Foyle's War, Battlestar Galactica, Fiddler on the Roof, Family Guy, Star Trek: Enterprise, Gilmore Girls, and Penn and Teller's Bullshit DVDs)

Here, Alice is trying to get away with what I call 'the half-box.' She's sitting on top of all Twister's bandages.

Occasionally, they do something so egregious they get sent to sit next to the DVD player.

And things like this very acrobatic leap by Alice to the top of the wall unit warrant a time out on top of the TV.

Here's Bill shoving Alice in behind the TV while Isis taunts from below.

The red fuzzy blanket and I are much sought after,

but sometimes you've just got to settle for Bill and the comics section of a newspaper.

This is Kitty. Apparently nobody cared enough about her to come up with a a real name. She is our only indoor-outdoor cat and is a gnarly, nasty, toothless 14-year-old whatsit who bites and scratches. She pretty much gets away with everything. Corporal Cuddling can only be done occasionally and very carefully if you don't want blood poisoning. As you can see, she usually just gets The Comfy Chair. She beat up and chased all the other cats for years, but they have figured out that she has lost her teeth, so for her own protection, she now lives in our bedroom and the backyard. She is definitely an example of what goes around comes around.

For really really bad infractions, they get sent to...THE FISHTANK! (gasp!)

Maybe they're worthwhile. At least during the winter. As long as I don't want to see the TV.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Template edit trials

You may have noticed that I'm trying to edit my template. I've got it wider. Now I just have to shift it over to the left and Done. widen the sidebar or post body Done. Still needs tweaking, though. It may stay like this for a while though, because I'm trying to get ready for relatives visiting from England next week. This has involved painting, carpet cleaning, and general mucking out so far.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Atheist blog challenge meme

This meme originated with Nullifidian, but I saw it first on (((Billy))) The Atheist's site. It was originally called the Atheist Thirteen I think because it originated on Friday the 13th.

If you’d like to take part, copy these questions, and answer them in your own words on your own blog.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

The lack of a belief in gods. I would go further and state that I lack belief in the supernatural. The Brights call this having a naturalistic worldview. And then there's my strong dislike of pseudoscience.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

Nope. Not religious at all, thank god ;-)

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

Biology (ichthyology, evolutionary biology, freshwater ecology, ecology, zoology, aquatic botany, herpetology, archeology), geology, paleontology, and astronomy, but not physics. Well, ok, maybe physics, since I'm done with school and don't have to take any more physics classes.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

Fewer rude atheists, because that won't change the creationist's minds - just make them feel justified in thinking that they are right. I get frustrated with the ignorance of the general public in this country all the time, but I think Hemant Mehta has the right idea. You can catch more flies with honey...

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

I guess sending you to Catholic school was a mistake after all (both of us would be joking, of course).

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

I don't have a favourite theistic argument. None of them make sense. Look at the evidence for a god people! There is none. Blindly believing something without evidence is just illogical.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I'm beginning to agree with Paul Geisert, co-founder of The Brights, that "atheist" is a bad word, but I think we're stuck with it.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Richard Dawkins. I've had a case of hero worship ever since about 1986 when I first read The Selfish Gene. I've seen him in person twice, which is the same number of times I've seen my favourite musician, Billy Joel, in concert. I don't always agree with his methods, but I do agree that atheists need to speak out if only to stop the creationists from imposing their agenda onto the sciences. This fight has been going on for decades, and each new generation needs someone to step up. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday: Keep your Theology off my Biology. Someone is picking up the gauntlet.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

My stepdaughter. She wasn't raised in a religious household and I thought she was more sensible than that. I blame her mother (there I go being rude. Oh, well. I'm only human).

Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet:

Anyone that wants to.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Line breeding

I read hundreds and hundreds of books while I was growing up. Somewhere among all the Black Stallion, Hardy Boys, Hornblower, and of course Tolkien books, I read a book by Albert Payson Terhune called Lad: a dog, a (somewhat anthropomorphized) true story about the life of Sunnybank Lad, a collie. From that moment on, I wanted a collie and was going to get one as soon as I could. And I did. My ex-husband David and I weren't married yet and couldn't afford an expensive dog, so I called a local breeder and asked about pet quality puppies. She didn't have any puppies, but she had a two year old that we could come and look at. It was love at first sight for both me and Robin.

While talking to her, I was completely flabbergasted when she started explaining her breeding practices. She "line bred" which meant selectively inbreeding the dogs with the best characteristics to try and reproduce those characteristics...I don't remember exactly how much, but Robin's mother was very closely related to his father. I had recently taken a genetics course at UC Davis, so I was even more shocked. She didn't seem to understand that, though she was trying to consolidate the genes that resulted in a champion's conformation, the puppies were far more likely than average to receive two copies of a deleterious recessive gene.

I googled line breeding and got a lot of dog breeders who more or less said the same thing. They defined inbreeding as the breeding of relatives not separated by more than one generation. Line breeding is used to concentrate the good qualities of an ancestor. They seem to justify line breeding because they use it to "set" characteristics that they want and weed out the genetic defects in a line. The genetically defective dogs are sold as pet quality if they are not "too" defective, or destroyed. Personally, I think that purposefully creating defective animals is inhumane and immoral. That said, I can understand that for certain rare breeds, line breeding may be the only option.

Of course, line breeding isn't limited to dogs. I pointed out that genetic relatedness is one of several hypotheses about why champion racehorses often have major problems in a previous post. Line breeding occurs in all domestic animals.

Then I happened upon this guy. He justifies line breeding because it is sanctioned in the bible, starting with Adam and Eve. If you take the bible literally, Adam and Eve's children would obviously have to breed with each other (this wouldn't be line breeding according to the dog breeders' definition - it would be inbreeding). He then points out that everyone would be 50% related to Adam and 50% related to Eve. This doesn't seem to faze him.

He then goes on to state that Noah and his progeny were God's line breeding program and calculates out their percent relatedness. Apparently God chose Terah's blood to concentrate and create the Jewish race. This guy is a Pony of the America's (POA) breeder. I have a special fondness for POAs, as I had one (Paleface) when I was growing up. I hope they're not all being bred by morons.

My mother took this photo just after my son was born. Robin was a lovely dog.

And remember. If it doesn't drool, it's not a collie.

Friday, June 13, 2008

High School Graduation

We just attended the last high school graduation. Bill's daughter graduated with honors this evening. All three kids will be away in college next fall. WOO HOO!!!! Finally some time alone. We will finally be able to walk around the house naked. I'm not saying we would, just that we could. We might startle the very tall neighbour who can see over the fence, but it would serve him right for looking.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Triple Crown excitement

Big Brown winning the Kentucky Derby
The only sport that will get me all emotional is horse racing. My mother, too. Well, really only three races a year: The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, aka The American Triple Crown. The third jewel in the crown, the Belmont, is tomorrow (Saturday). Big Brown is going to try to be the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 30 years. I’m certainly going to be rooting for him.

I missed the Kentucky Derby this year because I had a band concert, which turned out to be fortunate for me, as I also missed seeing Eight Bells break both her front ankles during the cool down and have to be euthanized immediately after winning second place behind Big Brown. I was watching in 1975 when Ruffian broke her leg during the Battle of the Sexes match at Belmont Park against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. She refused to stop running because she still desperately wanted to win. Her jockey was crying as he jumped off and tried to hold her up and take some weight of the leg. The memory still gets me all choked up.

I did watch Big Brown easily win the Preakness. He just moved to the outside, and Secretariat-like, in the home stretch almost made all the other horses look as though they were standing still. The Belmont has a history of upsets (the sports term connotation of unexpected defeat coined after the 1919 Stanford Memorial Stakes when longshot Upset beat Man o’ War), though. Eleven times in the last 30 years, horses have won the Derby and the Preakness only to be foiled at the longer Belmont. Last year, another longshot – the filly, Rags to Riches, beat all the big boys and won the Belmont.

I’m actually old enough to remember seeing the last three Triple Crown winners race, although my memories of Secretariat in 1973 are mostly from replays, I think. I definitely remember the excitement of seeing Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.

Racing is coming under a lot of scrutiny with all the break downs, the most recent high profile one of which is Eight Bells. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke his leg just out of the starting gate at the Preakness two years ago (yes, I was watching). Big Brown even has a quarter crack in his hoof wall, and is wearing special $550 glue-on shoes.

There are several reasons being put forward for these problems. One is that horses are being raced too young, before their bones are fully formed. The races in the Triple Crown are run as three year olds, but they start racing at two. Another hypothesis is that they are being bred too light-boned. Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins pointed this out when she stated that Eight Bells ran "with the heart of a locomotive on champagne glass ankles." A third is that there is just too much inbreeding. Big Brown has Northern Dancer as a great-grandsire on both sides, and it is estimated that 75% of all U.S. thoroughbreds are descended from Native Dancer, Northern Dancer's grandsire. Eight Bells had Northern Dancer as a great-grandsire on one side, and Native Dancer a great-grandsire on the other. Northern Dancer was also a grandsire of Ruffian. Some of this is likely just an artifact of Native Dancer's ubiquitousness but I'm sure genetics plays a big part.

I can guarantee I’ll be watching the Belmont tomorrow (most likely while on the phone with my mother), and I’ll be crying whether he wins or loses.
Big Brown turns his nose up at the competition. Or smells a nearby mare. Something like that.
Photos from

Monday, June 2, 2008

Some things never change

I just saw this National Geographic article from back in March, and my first thought was, "A hundred million years, and things haven't changed a bit."

The title? Ancient Flying Reptiles Likely Had Sex As Youths.