SciBlogs

Archive October 2010

Today’s crocodile photo Brendan Moyle Oct 29

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Sometimes it’s good to remember that some endangered species have made a very good recovery. The Estuarine crocodile- sometimes called the saltie in Australia- has sustained large increases in population in Papua New Guinea and Australia since the 1980s.  This species is the largest of all the crocodilian species still extant.

Clicking the image will bring up a larger version

Torea-pango – Oyster Catcher Photos Brendan Moyle Oct 28

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The Variable Oyster Catcher or Torea-pango (Haematopus unicolor) has forms that can be all black, or have white areas on the ventral surface.

It is a wading species of the family Haematopodidae. It is also endemic to New Zealand. It is a common species and not threatened.

These juveniles were on a beach at Waiheke Island.  I used a kayak to drift close to their position.

Clicking the image will bring up a larger version

Crazy Creationists Unleashed #1 Brendan Moyle Oct 27

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One of the facets of social media is it allows lots of people to voice all kinds of opinions, and make all sorts of wonderful assertions. Micro-blogging sites like twitter are accessible to people with often, nothing more than a cellphone.

This has also meant that the various species of creationists wanting to popularise their views, are a constant plague. So, I thought I’d occasionally dip into the timelines, extract the odd mirthful assertion, and have a closer look.

This one is from @joecienkowski who tweets:

@xxxxxx how you explain 96% reduction in human population in only 2010 years & expect to go much more than few thousand years past.

Okay, Joe is a Young-Earth-Creationist who believes that the earth is really just a few thousand years old. What he’s doing is recycling an old argument that if we interpolate the human population growth rates back in time, then we run out of people in just a few thousand years.

What this really does is just take a very simplistic Lotka population model. Yeah, biologists know about these kinds of things. And it’s based solely on the ‘natural rate of increase’, which is assumed to be constant. So nothing that moderates actual population increases- disease, food supply, predation, wars- actually exist in this model. It’s completely absurd reasoning.

The absurdity should be made obvious by considering the analogous Elephant Population Theory. This was actually highlighted by Darwin [1]. Assuming we start with 2 elephants- and that each female elephant breeds six offspring between the ages of 30 and 90, then there would be 19 million elephants in just 750 years. That’s assuming of course, there’s enough food supply.

Assuming we start from a global flood at 2350 BCE, we begin with one pair of African elephants. In 1000 years, there’d be 87,346,358,195 elephants. By the Augustan Era in Rome  there’d be a global population of 20,208,533,156,611,200,000,000,000 elephants.  That’s like over 20,000 billion billion billion elephants. You’d think people might have noticed.

It also fails for the obvious reason that for most of the human population’s history, growth rates have been very close to zero. It has taken both the development of agriculture- and more recently industrialisation- to lift our population’s growth rates.

The genetic evidence also provides strong backing for evolution.  The recent paper by Huff et.al (2010) [2] used Alu (mutational) insertions to identify that the effective population of human ancestors living 0.9 to 1.5 million years ago was  14,500- 26,000. The reason human populations stayed so low for hundred of thousands of years is simple. There was almost no discernible  population growth.

This highlights another dilemma for YEC. The mutation rate in humans is about 130 per births [3]. This is simply not sufficient to generate the variation in human characteristics that we see today in the short, ‘few thousand’ YEC time frame.

References

[1] Darwin, C. The Origin of Species, Chapter III

[2] Huff, C.D., Xing, J. Rogers A.R., Witherspoon, D. and Borde, L.B.(2010) PNAS, 107(5): 2147-2152

[3] Nachman, M.W., Crowell, S.L. (2000) Estimate of the mutation rate per nucleotide in humans. Genetics 156:297-304

Chasing the early morning light Brendan Moyle Oct 27

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One of the delights of photographing in Spring (and also Autumn) is the way the light becomes somewhat more vivid and clearer.

This shot was taken out on the Hauraki Gulf early last week, just as the sun was rising. One of the tricks to taking these photos is to use a graduated ND filter to preserve more of the highlights. And a good tripod is also handy :)

Tuesday Morning Crocodile Photo Brendan Moyle Oct 26

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One of the advantages to being in a small boat to photograph crocodiles, is the ability to compose shots of the animal swimming towards you.  This is also where having a competent lookout is handy too.

This shot is from the Mary River up in the Northern Territory of Australia.  I was using an a700 with a 300/4 G prime for these shots. This guy is about 3 metres long. No idea about its gender however :)

Clicking the image will bring up a slightly larger version.

Bird photos for today Brendan Moyle Oct 20

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New Zealand has a number of bird species that have been recently introduced. Some like the tauhou or silvereye, made the crossing from Australia recently and succeeded in establishing a population here.

Others were deliberately introduced by early European settlers. One of these is the Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. This is widely distributed in New Zealand, but can be difficult to spot.

I took some photos of a male Chaffinch on Monday. It is the more colourful than the female, with its distinctive blue-gray hood and russet-toned saddle.


Link to larger image
Link to larger image

These were handheld shots, using my a700 and the 300/4G with a 1.4x teleconverter

A glimpse into the insanity files Brendan Moyle Oct 13

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To reinforce the idea that a stalker is not some infatuated, pining soul, here’s some excerpts from just the week I was in China.  The person concerned here received prophetic dreams from God, which gives some context to the religious elements to these messages.

At this point I had not communicated to the person for almost 2 months.  The theory is that by not communicating at all, to any provocation, this will cause the person to eventually give up.

I am not backing down from prophecy,.,,you are fucking fraud, lying to people, and I dont care what happens

just opening up another hotmail account, get ready to have your life destroyed

@XX yeah much more delicious and truthful individuals online..reporting brendan now to his boss

Good luck with your pathetic life and lies brendan moyle, good riddens

I sent it brendan/ the mail is sent,,time to say goodbye

Cheers to good ole fashion revenge when people dont want to do the right thing immediately

after i tell him all I discovered via my giftings…which he will believe because you are divorced…then I am going to tell him the rest [I'm not divorced]

maybe family can get you to a damn doctor

I have to think of others online..that is why I am contacting your family [followed by posting my physical street address]

you are a sick and abusive man, and I am not letting you away with it since you are not clearing up the issue

and I am going to make sure your family is aware of what an abomination you turned into..violating womens trust/ so many men would stand in a line up to give him a slap for doing that.. many…he is demonic deviant, and I am going to make sure it ends

What not to say to someone who is being stalked Brendan Moyle Oct 12

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As this issue grinds on, weeks on, I have developed some strong feelings as to what not to say to someone in this position :)

The first, is don’t say that you must be flattered at this attention. Stalkers aren’t motivated by some mild infatuation. It’s an obsession. And it’s one that is based on an imagined and fantastical belief. You don’t get stalked because of who you are, you get stalked for what the stalker imagines you are.

So this is no puerile male fantasy come true, where some pliant lovesick woman wants to love you. This is a disturbing pursuit by an obsessed person, wanting to control and manipulate your behaviour. There is nothing flattering about it.

The second is getting told to ignore it. Again, this under-estimates the effect of stalking. So what if the woman doesn’t live in the same country as me? It’s obvious she has mental health problems, she makes dozens of posts a day directed at me. There are the pleading and cajoling posts to establish communications. There are the threatening posts. There are the posts motivated by incandescent rage- threatening to destroy or ruin me- by contacting work or family. This goes on day after day, week after week.

She know where I live. She’s one economy class ticket away from me.

Somehow ignoring the obsessed, sometimes enraged, mentally-ill woman who knows where I live and work, & posts about me continuously, doesn’t actually work as a source of relief.

Avoiding Stalkers on the Internet Brendan Moyle Oct 11

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One of the reasons for my increasing reticence to make blog posts, has been an ongoing problem with a stalker. A consequence of being stalked is sadly, an increased reluctance to go onto the internet.

My stalker is a woman. This is relatively rare, as men tend to dominate the stalking statistics. The fact remains however, that a significant number of cases, still involve women. After months of trying to block all contact and refuse to communicate, nothing seems to have improved.

Anyway, in my ongoing attempts to protect myself from this, I have at least, identified strategies that reduce the risk of stalking.

First, don’t be an academic. If you are an academic, then you be very quickly found at work. As an academic, I’ve presented papers and talks to the public, I’ve done radio an TV interviews, I blog about my research from time-to-time etc. You leave a brightly-lit path back to your university or college for search engines. And to make you accessible to students, university is going to have your picture, email and phone numbers all freely available.

Second, don’t belong to Facebook or Myspace. Of course, I’m not recommending people go out and close their accounts because of some exaggerated risk of stalking. The only real way to avoid stalking after all, is to never go on the internet. The problem is that your privacy settings only offer incomplete protection. I’ve benefited from Facebook in the way if lets me renew, and keep in touch, with relatives and old friends. But even with ramped up privacy (heck, I don’t even let my family members see my phone number or email address), a persistent stalker can still gather information.

Who else has the same surname as me? Do these people have friends in common with me? If you’re an obsessed stalker, putting in the hours to connect people I know back to me, can be done. It’s really just a matter of time. And if you can get one of these people to communicate with you, then any walls you have up as protection, will be easily breached. To block communications properly, you actually need to recruit all your friends and family, not just yourself. You just need one person to break ranks and then your stalker is back in.

There are the more obvious protective things to do. Be very secretive with your personal life. Stalkers are adept at picking up little clues about friends, family and work, to piece together more information about your private life.

Stalkers are actually a very low risk. I’ve been using the internet almost from when it gathered momentum in the early 1990s. And I’ve had very good security over time, not because I’m paranoid about stalking. It’s more that I have a private life also, and I like that to be private.

What this experience has brought home, is that when you do interact with people, you get very little information on what they’re actually thinking. I don’t know what the trigger was for my stalker. Something happened, and without realising it for a few months, an elaborate fantasy was concocted. The key element of this is the irrational and immutable belief that I desire a relationship with this woman.