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From the expert’s mouth

Chimpanzé (Pan troglodytes)

In this Atlantic piece on how candidates will do in the debates:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

In her book My Life With the Chimpanzees, Goodall told the story of “Mike,” a chimp who maintained his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he moved down a road, creating confusion and noise that made his rivals flee and cower. She told me she would be thinking of Mike as she watched the upcoming debates.

“Vigorous and imaginative displays on Trump’s part and steady error avoidance on Clinton’s are the stories of their progress through the primary-cycle debates. Clinton is her party’s nominee independent of anything that happened in the 10 Democratic debates and town halls, and with minimal effect from them on her financial, endorsement, and name-recognition advantages. Trump is his party’s nominee largely because of the Republicans’ 20-some debates, town halls, forums, and other live-television displays.

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Don’t let it be forgot

Tintagel

Since I am a complete sucker for anything related to the Arthurian legend, this is so cool:

Archaeologists have discovered the impressive remains of a probable Dark Age royal palace at Tintagel in Cornwall. It is likely that the one-metre thick walls being unearthed are those of the main residence of the 6th century rulers of an ancient south-west British kingdom, known as Dumnonia.

Scholars have long argued about whether King Arthur actually existed or whether he was in reality a legendary character formed through the conflation of a series of separate historical and mythological figures.

But the discovery by English Heritage-funded archaeologists of a probable Dark Age palace at Tintagel will certainly trigger debate in Arthurian studies circles – because, in medieval tradition, Arthur was said to have been conceived at Tintagel as a result of an illicit union between a British King and the beautiful wife of a local ruler.

The account – probably based on an earlier legend – was written by a Welsh (or possibly Breton-originating) cleric called Geoffrey of Monmouth. The story forms part of his greatest work, Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), one of the most important books ever produced in the medieval world.

Significantly, it was almost certainly completed by 1138 – at a time when the Tintagel promontory (where the probable Dark Age palace complex has been discovered) was uninhabited. The medieval castle, the ruins of which still stand today, was built almost a century later. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s assertion that King Arthur was conceived in an earlier by then long-abandoned great fortress on the site would potentially therefore have had to have come, in the main, from now long-lost earlier legends, claims or quasi-historical accounts.

This is really cool

through the foliage

I was a really smart kid, but nothing like this:

A teenager from Quebec has discovered an ancient Mayan city without leaving his province’s borders.

William Gadoury is a 15-year-old student from Saint-Jean-de-Matha in Lanaudière, Quebec. The precocious teen has been fascinated by all things Mayan for several years, devouring any information he could find on the topic.

During his research, Gadoury examined 22 Mayan constellations and discovered that if he projected those constellations onto a map, the shapes corresponded perfectly with the locations of 117 Mayan cities. Incredibly, the 15-year-old was the first person to establish this important correlation, reported the Journal de Montreal over the weekend.

Then Gadoury took it one step further. He examined a twenty-third constellation which contained three stars, yet only two corresponded to known cities.

Gadoury’s hypothesis? There had to be a city in the place where that third star fell on the map.

Satellite images later confirmed that, indeed, geometric shapes visible from above imply that an ancient city with a large pyramid and thirty buildings stands exactly where Gadoury said they would be. If the find is confirmed, it would be the fourth largest Mayan city in existence.

Jersey tomatoes making a comeback?

Tomato ripening in Australian "winter"

For anyone who’s ever eaten one, this is very good news indeed. The tasteless, mushy things that pass for tomatoes now are a very pale imitation:

The Jersey tomato, red, ripe and juicy, was once revered as the best to be had, with a tangy, sweet-tart flavor that was the very taste of summer.

If that kind of tomato perfection has faded to a dim memory in recent decades, blame mechanized harvesting and long-distance shipping, which prize durability over flavor. Pulpy, thick-skinned, flat-tasting tomatoes became the unsatisfying norm.

“The old, soft tomatoes split too easily, so you couldn’t ship them,” John Hauser, a farmer in East Brunswick, N.J., said. “But newer tomatoes, while they look good and hold up well, made people start to understand that beauty is only skin-deep. A lot of flavor was lost.”

This season, Rutgers University introduced a reinvented version of a tomato variety from 1934 that reigned unchallenged for decades. After years of work by Rutgers plant specialists, this old-fashioned tomato with old-fashioned taste has returned as the Rutgers 250, named in honor of the university’s 250th anniversary.

“This was the tomato that made the Jersey tomato reputation,” Thomas J. Orton, a professor in the department of plant biology and pathology, said of the 1934 variety. “It was a groundbreaking tomato that redefined what a tomato should be and was the most popular variety in the world. At one point, it represented in excess of 60 percent of all tomatoes grown commercially.”

Here come the cicadas

Black and Scarlet Cicada  (Red-nosed Cicada) Huechys sanguinea (Hemiptera - Cicada)

Billions and billions of cicadas will soon emerge in Ohio, West Virginia and other nearby states, in an event that hasn’t occurred since 1999. Beginning in May, three different species of cicadas (Magicicada septendecim, M. cassini and M. septendecula) in these areas will emerge as adults and start to look for mates, the highlight of a… Continue Reading →

Oops on all those back episodes of CSI

Bite marks. #springbreak #ugh #whenisitover

The Texas Forensic Science Commission recently recommended banning the use of bite mark evidence in criminal cases because of possible mistakes by forensic dentists that could result in wrongful convictions.

It is the first time an agency has officially challenged a forensic technique that’s been used in US courts since the 1890s, despite plenty of criticism over the years. While the Commission only made a recommendation for courts pending further research, Texas could become the first state to prohibit bite mark evidence in criminal proceedings. Other states could soon follow suit.

Rights of the accused advocates praise the agency’s decision as it takes a definitive stand against the infallibility of certain types of evidence. Criminal defense attorney Steve Duckett stated that, “… the Commission made a responsible decision to recommend suspending the use of bite mark evidence in courtrooms until scientific research can better prove its accuracy. As it is now, there’s too much room for subjective interpretation by forensic experts and therefore too much room for error.” He/she added, “Jurors hear the word ‘forensic’ and assume it is foolproof, when in fact, bite mark evidence can be highly refutable.”

The recent moratorium came about because of the Steven Mark Chaney case. In 1987, Chaney was convicted of murdering John and Sally Sweek in Dallas. The main piece of evidence against him was a bite mark on Mr. Sweek’s arm, which a forensic dentist testified was from Chaney.

And despite nine witnesses who swore Chaney was elsewhere when the crime took place, the jurors accepted the expert testimony and convicted him. He spent the next 28 years in prison until a public defender tasked with investigating possible wrongful convictions pursued his case.

As a result, Dallas County prosecutors convinced a judge that no DNA evidence linked Chaney to the crime and the bite mark forensic analysis was simply wrong. They even got the forensic dentist to completely recant his testimony from years earlier, and Chaney was released after spending almost half his life behind bars.

The Chaney case is only one of several high-profile convictions based on bite mark forensics to be thrown out. Hundreds of cases across the country are being reviewed and overturned as experts continue to discredit its validity.

Analysts point to several factors creating doubt. First, human skin isn’t the best medium on which to measure a bite mark. Skin can move and change thereby distorting dental impressions caused by a bite. The possibilities for misinterpretation are significant.

Second, dental profiles can change – teeth can be removed or altered, changing one’s bite configuration over time. Also, and importantly, it has never been scientifically proven that individual dental profiles are unique identifiers. While some studies suggest they may be as distinctive as fingerprints, just as many other studies suggest the opposite.

Even a 2014 study conducted by the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), the advocacy group responsible for accrediting forensic dentists and setting guidelines, lends skepticism to the assertion that bite mark analysis is certain.

Their report showed that when shown 100 samples, 39 AFBO-certified forensic dental experts strongly disagreed on whether or not an injury was a bite mark at all and whether it had distinguishing, identifiable features that could be used as evidence. Strong disagreement – as in unanimous agreement on only 4% of the samples.

This doesn’t mean that forensic dentistry is useless or meaningless in the justice system. In fact, it is invaluable when identifying human remains or determining a crime victim’s age, health, or socioeconomic status. It can also be extremely helpful in recreating crime scenarios or reenacting physical confrontations. But it certainly isn’t infallible and should not be the primary evidence used to incriminate a defendant.

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