Friday, December 30, 2011

Customer Doesn't Cheese

Phil Plait's Twittered enjoyment at the check-out reminded me of a poem I wrote pre-blog. Evidence that I've been practicing this hermit thing for quite some time.
Moonlight Party
I was picking up some groceries on my way home on Valentine's Day
I had time to study Jennifer Aniston's nose job
and note that Katie Holme's wasn't happy with Tom Cruise
while I waited for a man in front of me to run back
for another pot of tulips with
pink plastic heat shrink cellophane
for his Valentine.
"That will be $58.75," the acne-faced cashier said.
My eyes squinted and looked over at the color display
"What did I get for $29.99? Moonlight Party? What's that?"
She looked at me funny and motioned at the bagger
"It's after the celery and before the green beans."
He dug around in the bags and got a box of tea
Held it next to the green beans, pushed around the remaining items
The plastic tray of sushi was left off the list.
They rang up my California Roll, $5.65.
And a manager came over
to void out
my Moonlight Party.
BC Tomlinson
Feb 2007

Xylem and Phloem

Remember xylem and phloem from elementary school science class? I do. Which one do you think is responsible for making the foam in this video? I was unsequestering some carbon yesterday as part of landscaping-by-elimination. The top end of this oak tree was in the fire. Looks like water was turning to steam inside the xylem and phloem, forcing unheated sap and steam out the cut end. Phloem has all the nutrients in it, so I'm guessing that's the source of the foam. And the xylem is probably just making the hissing clear liquid. This is based on plain reasoning because my google search on this was not satisfying. Any botanists out there to confirm this hypothesis? All this sap with foaming potential kind of illustrates how trees in the south just don't pay any attention to winter time.

Sorry it's so short. The fire flared up right after I started recording and made a loud noise that resulted in the iPhone microphone clipping. I can't stand that sound so I trimmed the video short. I should have deleted the fade in and out so you could at least look at it after it ended. There are no do-overs on Vimeo unfortunately.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

That's not the real reason

I don't think they cut this from the final edit because they might incur the wrath of the Christians. They just didn't want the letters from irate geeks telling them that it wasn't Superman that has the line, "with great power comes great responsibility," that was Spiderman.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

iPhone Camera Cable Release

I just confirmed that the volume up button on the iPhone headphones works as a cable release for the iPhone camera. Should be an iOS5 thing so it doesn't have to be a 4S. I got a little iPhone tripod adapter last week so now I can make stop motion videos with my iPhone!

Too bad the slideshow option in the phone has a minimum setting of 1 second or this would be pretty fun right inside the phone. It's mildly unsatisfying in iMovie, but quite amusing in GIFQuickMaker.

The only thing I had in the house to play with is art that Ronnie Hinton made with the remnants of my former career. These are, unfortunately, not toys and I had to stop playing when I broke off a transistor hoof.

Update 3/5/2012: Studio Neat, the maker of my tripod adapter, made an app to make stop motion videos in-phone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wonder what they do for a hobby in the summer?

Last night my dad and step-mother picked me up at my house on their way to Tallahassee to see my step-brother at his restaurant. He told us that a house in Tallahassee won an award for the best light display in the country. We had a tradition of taking in the tacky lights, so we decided we should go. We usually tour the modest neighborhoods featuring four various scale depictions of the manger scene on the lawn, one in jigsawed plywood, one inflatable, one in internally lit rotomolded plastic, and the last comprised entirely of Smurfs. But this was in the big planned golf course community of McMansions on the outskirts of town, where every house has a three car garage and a yard man with a zero turn lawn mower. It's still the Deep South, though, so the computerized light show was set to a radio transmitted sound track of patriotic country music -- Ain't no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA! This song has been the bane of my existence since Desert Storm. One of my best friends from college was over there as a Bradley commander and I was worried sick about him the whole time. I mailed him boxes of batteries and candy and electrical tape from Sam's Club once a week. The constant playing of that infernal song reduced a serious situation that required mature strategy to something embarrassing. Running shoe ads convey a better tone than that damn song. And it JUST WON'T GO AWAY.

I set my video of the light show to a different song and now it makes more sense. I shot this on my new iPhone with 1080p HD video so click the HD icon if you have high speed internet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The robins are here!

The Robin is the One
That interrupts the Sheet
That hurried flock express their Thirst
When December's on its feet 

The Robin is the One
That wets the perching knot
With his flailing energy —
A hundred sparkling drops —

The Robin is the One
That speechless from his Quest
Submit that Home — and Certainty
And Clawfoot Tubs, are best

     — a less sanctimonious rewrite of Emily Dickinson, seasonally adjusted for the Deep South, by Barbara Tomlinson

Monday, December 12, 2011

Things that spin: Mowing Machines and Microelectronics

I worked on two similar yet very different machines this weekend. I prepared for them the same way — ordering things online and studying the instructions. I got a new mower belt and blade from Miami, Florida and a new hard drive and portable enclosure from Whittier, California.

The idea for the new hard drive is to make my computer faster and more responsive. Also I needed more space already. The mower, well it was just honestly worn out. When I first fired it up after being gone for 10 months it made an inappropriate smell, like belts burning. I tried adjusting the tension but that just made it fly right to pieces. I figured as long as I was ordering parts I might as well get a new blade too since the old one felt out of balance. There was a lot of it missing after all.

Saturday morning I put the new hard drive in the enclosure and set about figuring out how to get the old hard drive duplicated on it. Because it was sort of hard to find specific, good instructions I'm going to put it down here for reference. Most of the forums said to download software to clone drives, like Super Duper or Carbon Copy. I just couldn't believe Apple wouldn't have a plan for doing this within their OS. Well they do. Here's how.

1. Use Disk Utility to format the new drive Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
2. Use Disk Utility to make 2 Partitions, a 1 GB one (Restore) and the rest (Main)
3. Restart the machine in Restore Mode. Hold down Command R while it boots. (I couldn't make this work with a Bluetooth keyboard. I plugged in a USB keyboard and it worked fine.) Now your computer is running off a 1GB partition on the main hard drive meaning you can do stuff with the remainder, like clone it.
4. Open Disk Utilities from the Restoration screen (a nice gray linen background with not many choices.)
5. Select the Macintosh HD and go to the Restore tab. Drag your Main partition of the new hard drive to the Destination: field. Click the Restore button.
6. After the 6 hours (or however long it takes) to copy your hard drive, reboot the computer to the main hard drive like it normally does.
7. Download the Restoration Disk Assistant from Apple.
8. Run it and select that "Restore" partition you made on the new hard drive as where you want to create the disk. This only works with USB connections. I used Firewire 800 to copy the hard drive. I had to eject the disk and plug it in again with a USB cable to do this step. This only takes a minute. After it's done the 1GB partition you made will be invisible. It now looks like you have two identical Macintosh HDs, only one of them is on USB. And it doesn't have that new download on it.
9. I went to System Preferences and changed my startup drive to the external one just to test it. It worked fine.

Between 5. and 6. I worked on the mower. Unlike Apple, Snapper has an excellent Maintenance Manual. I didn't have to do any research on the internet to start work on the mower. I just had to get up my nerve. I really don't like working on machinery. I always hurt myself. But you can't be a hermit if you can't fix your own damn mower, so I had to do it.

I took a look at the old belt sticking out from under the mower compared to the new one. Yeah, that's destroyed. I don't know how these things are made. It's very strange looking to me. Is it covered in Kevlar? That's pretty cool.

The first step was to take the mower deck off. I've done that before to take the blade off. It's mostly just pulling out cotter pins and dragging heavy parts around in the right order. I didn't really run into any trouble until I got to the part that said "Remove deck belt idler pulley. See Figure 47" Well it ain't LEGO. How exactly? After many exploratory trips to the shed to try to find a better ratchet handle and resorting to a length of pipe and an ill-fitting metric wrench to hold the nut on the bottom I got the bolt out of the pulley. My hands were throbbing from wrenching on tools already. I was wearing my leather gloves, but maybe I should have put my gel padded bicycle gloves under them.

The belt guard came off with the pulley and I saw what was probably the source of the belt smell.

The belt on the outside of the belt guard must have been rubbing on there. It's sharpened down to a knife edge. It was a little bit bent and bound the pulley too. I straightened it out in the vise. When I put it back together I tried to figure out how to adjust things so it has enough clearance. I took off a part of the tension adjustment that was also bent and straightened that as well. It bent again though when I tested the on and off positions for the blade. I don't really know how to tell what it's doing without the belt actually moving. There's no way I'm sticking my face down between the drive belt and the blade belt with the mower running. Also I can't, because there's a safety switch that shuts it off if your ass comes out of the seat. But what I could do is hold my iPhone down there on my monopod and shoot some video. I ordered a doo-hickey to let me attach the phone to the monopod. It shipped today.

I knew I had a socket and breaker bar to fit the bolts that hold the blade on. No problem getting the old one off and the new one on. I just had to guess at 90 foot pounds of torque. I turned it as hard as I could. It was interesting to me to compare the new blade and the old one. Where did all that metal go? Is there a little bit on every blade of grass? A large bit in the small trees I keep mowing? I got a straight blade a few years ago for mowing small trees but I swapped it back out again for the Ninja blade. I don't like the shooting out the side business. It mostly just blows back on me. The Ninja blade is my favorite. It got dark and I couldn't take more pictures. I got the mower back together and put it away in the shed and still had several hours of disk copying to go.

Sunday I opened up the mini to swap the hard drives. The new one is a Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid. It's a 750 GB 7200 rpm drive with a 32 MB cache. It has start-up speed similar to a solid state drive with the affordable capacity of a mechanical drive. It also has the SATA 6Gb/s interface, which is what my mini is designed to support. However the drive that's actually in my mini is a 500 GB 5400 rpm 3Gb/s model — basically the straight blade. I want the Ninja blade! I don't want to just throw the data out the side, I want to whirl it around a lot. My main problems are with iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie. These all access large libraries of data. My iPhoto library is currently 231 GB.

So here's where I started. A mini and an external drive. The new minis are a lot easier to take apart than the one I have up in the loft. No putty knife required.
It's a lot like opening the valve box under my house to turn the water off and on.

Access hatch on the new Mac mini

The part of the cover over the logic board is shielded. The part over the Airport antenna is not.
Take out the fan, a bit of cowling, and the airport antenna and there's the hard drive.
It only screws to the airport antenna so all you do is disconnect the SATA connector and it comes right out.
Here's the other side showing the flat ribbon cable.
The only mounting consideration for this thing are two socket head screws in the side.
Those screw heads go in those holes in that bit of plastic down at the end, the top ones.
The top holes seem to have some rubber grommets in them. There's room underneath
for another drive. You can order the cable online for $40. I decided not to use two internal though.
I watched a video to replace the drives in a server version that comes with two drives. There were a lot of
thermocouples stuck to the second drive. Without those I'm not sure it's a good idea.
Here's the new drive plugged into the external enclosure board.
Here are the two drives side by side. I'm going to peel that plastic sheet off the old one.
The SATA connector is taped to it so you have peel the plastic off first, then unplug the cable.
Then put the cable on the new one and put the plastic on it. The tape had plenty of sticky left.
Then I moved the two socket head screws over.
That tiny thing is the SATA connector. I remember when a SCSI cable connector was the size of my phone.
The empty one next to it would be for a second drive if I chose to put one in there. It's pretty tricky to
get the drive lined up exactly right. And it has to be EXACTLY right. I turned it back right side up and
used gravity to try to get those screw heads seated properly.
That's the RF connector for the airport antenna. I remember when SMA connectors were considered tiny. What do
they call this? SM-AAA? I had to put the antenna back on and screw its cover to the hard drive so I could
continue to wiggle on it to try to get it seated that extra millimeter it needed on one side.
I finally got a satisfying CLICK! from the socket head screws going into the holes all the way and the cover for the
antenna was lined up perfectly with the threaded holes. The screws that go in there are very interesting.
They only have three threads because there is something right up against the bottom of that hole. 
The reason the top of the screw is shaped like that is because it doubles as a latch for the cover. There's a plastic keyhole arrangement on the top that grabs onto those screws. There are three of them around the perimeter of the opening.
I'm impressed with the double duty.
Frankly the fan connector kind of stumped me when I was taking it apart. I didn't like that I had to put pressure
 under the wires to get it out, but that's how it worked. It was so little pressure I shouldn't have worried.
Just pull up on them, I think its fine. Better than poking at it in an exploratory manner like I did,
which as you can see just gouged up the housing for no reason.
There's the mating side in focus. It's not a slide on, it's more of a knife edge kind of thing. Just line up the back,
then push down. Nice click to it.
I would say the mini job was definitely more enjoyable than the lawnmower job. I think it's just because I have a lot more experience with the kind of things that go in a computer. Also because my sensitive hands are fine with fiddling with delicate things but I cuss a blue streak when a 3/4" socket slips and I bang my wrist hard on a hard steel angle. Also I don't have a cohesive set of mechanics tools. I just have an assortment that people have left behind in my garage. (Thanks for that breaker bar, Chris! And all those giant sockets, E!)

Tiny screwdrivers I have though. I got this set from Harbor Freight for some trivial amount of money when I had to take a lot of hard drives apart. (To be sure the data was destroyed.) It had everything I needed for this project with one exception. If you get one you might want to check that they don't leave out the one size you need the most. I had to use the T-5 for the T-6 holes. One was stubborn. When I rounded off the hole in the screw I switched to a hex bit that loosened the screw just fine.

I'm real nervous doing anything in a modern computer that makes metal shavings though. A bit of conductive trash the size of a gnat's whisker could short something out in this thing. The components are freakishly tiny. I would really like to see the techniques they use to assemble computers now. My hands probably look like a pro basketball players' next to the ones of the people who assemble these for a living.

My main static precaution was doing this on a damp day. It was over 80% humidity, on the verge of rain. No problem.

After I got the mini back together I put the old drive in the external enclosure. I was thinking I'd put it in my other mini that only has an 80 GB drive. Then I realized I can just set it to be the boot drive over Firewire. Good way to test how Lion works on a Core 2 Duo. Works fine! Now I can delete the iPhoto library off that drive and have a lot of room for stuff I can watch on TV in bed! And I don't have to lament not having a T-6 screwdriver again.

I actually kind of like that 9.5mm drive enclosure. It's a lot better than I thought it would be. It came with cables for Firewire 400, Firewire 800 and USB. I used all of them yesterday. Not that I didn't already have some, but it was nice to not have to go looking for them in plastic bins.

Before I swapped the drives out I timed some things. Then I did it again with the new drive. The hybrid drive is supposed to get faster the more times you do stuff because it figures out what to put in the solid state memory part.

Time to boot:
5400 rpm drive: 1:10
7200 rpm drive: 0:40

Start iPhoto:
5400 rpm drive: 0:19
7200 rpm drive: 0:16 first time, 0:04 second time through fourth time

Start iMovie:
5400 rpm drive: 0:18
7200 rpm drive: 0:14 first time, 0:09 second time to 0:08 fourth time

That's better than twice as fast. I think that will be a noticeable improvement.

I recognize a great deal of irony in this. I'm unhappy with technology that is not as fast as it can be, yet my whole mission in life these days is to take as long as possible to do things. I've been perfecting the accurate disassembly of calamondins, a sour orange fruit. I spent so much time making marmalade the other day I figured out it came to over an hour per jar. But that's another blog topic.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Best Pictures from Space of 2011

Phil Plait posted a photo gallery of his favorite pictures from space of 2011. If you missed it go look at them. It starts with Trey Ratcliff's single exposure handheld High Dynamic Range photo of Endeavour going into the clouds. That made me cry. So many people missed that launch that wanted to see it, like President Obama. But Trey stuck it out and got that picture in less than ideal conditions. But he had alternative equipment and got a good shot that caught the eye of a lot of people. I love that the photos from the space station shot by actual people are mixed up with automated photos taken from satellites.

The US has been doing that since before they had a good way to convert the image into electrical signals, modulate radio waves with the data, and transmit them back to the ground. The original camera based satellites launched in 1960. Code named Corona they were primarily for spying on the Soviet Union. They used film that they would drop back to earth. The satellites flew specific missions with a limited supply of film. They only stayed up for a few hours or a few days. They dropped capsules containing the film. As it parachuted down the capsule was captured by prop planes. It sounds a little bit like a Soyuz landing, only they don't get caught by a slow plane before they hit the ground. But while satellite technology has leapt forward, Soyuz is still pretty much the same thing as in the 1960s.

Other satellites programs attempted to develop the film in space, take TV pictures of them, then beam those back to earth. TV wasn't nearly high enough resolution then, any more than it is now, so of course that was pretty much a waste of effort. But I suppose trying it motivated them to get to where they are now — charge coupled devices capturing very high resolution images that can be transmitted quickly after they're captured.

When I think back over the year to the images that most impressed me I think it was video of things I wasn't expecting. The Aquarius and Curiosity launches that had video of spacecraft separation. I was NOT expecting that! That's amazing to me! The quality is not that great, but it's not really about the image this time as what it's showing. It's just so cool that they put that camera there and were able to get an antenna aimed right to be able to lock onto the radio signal back here on earth! Bet they wish they'd put a camera like that on Phobos-Grunt. Based on the number of views of these videos it's clear that I am a very rare bird to think it's interesting. Maybe it's a cop-out to pick these unpopular videos as my favorites because it would be too hard to choose between the really astonishingly good photos I've seen this year. Let's say they aren't the best artistically, they are just the most hopeful to me as a person who thinks like an engineer.

For artistry I pick the solid rocket booster footage from the shuttle launches. Despite no editing and being very long it is beautiful to me. I'd like a good editor to make about a 5 minute mix down of this footage. My favorite part is the audio. Because the microphone is attached to the structure that is vibrating with the pops and creaks of expansion and contraction you can hear it plainly even in thin to no atmosphere. It's all just surreal and beautiful to me. I salute the engineers and technicians and invisible people who mounted those cameras, got them back when the rockets were recovered, downloaded and compiled this video and uploaded it for my enjoyment. Unlike with the Trey Ratcliff photo there is no way to know who they are and that just makes it extra poignant to me. I like to think about things like the person who packed those parachutes in the SRBs and how he made those lines get cut at just the right time. That's just one guy. He did that. I salute you, parachute rigger. Nice work. It's beautiful and I'm glad somebody got pictures of it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is FedEx rural-phobic?

I live in the country. My address is a US Highway. I buy things online. Computers, socks, hats, lawnmower belts and blades. The UPS man recognized my last name and said he was sorry when my dad closed his company. He tells me gossip about my neighbors who also can't get jobs and are home all the time. He's like a part of the community, even though I am definitely not. I have no idea who he was talking about that's moving to North Dakota to be a bricklayer.

The UPS deliveries come from my county seat. The driver comes to my gate, opens it, brings me stuff, and closes it behind him. But FedEx comes from across the state line near a small airport that takes FedEx planes. My house is about the same number of miles from both places, but for some reason FedEx freaks out when they leave the big city. Big being a population around 175,000. Compare to where my UPS deliveries come from, population around 9,000.

Guess what I ordered from Shenzhen? Yep, a new video camera! It is cleverly disguised as a cell phone and is therefore subsidized by AT&T with the tower at the end of my driveway, so I've got that going for me. Apparently I can't have my new toy though. FedEx thinks I'm alternately lying about my address or they are looking for me where I am not. I have PROOF I was here this afternoon.

"Met Customer Woman." Can't be more plain than that. UPS can do it, what's wrong with FedEx?  I want my new toy! I want Siri to tell me all about Chek Lap Kok! I suppose it's in Hong Kong? That sounds AWESOME!

I wonder why there's no way to put in instructions for how to find my house on the FedEx website? I can see that they don't know where it is. They don't bother to call the phone number that's printed right on the label. So why not let me put in the coordinates? Wouldn't latitude and longitude help? Mailbox addresses are so antiquated. They're relics like land line phones and over-the-air TV. We need something better. A nice QR code for the coordinates perhaps. I can copy and paste it. I'm sure Google can put it in the Chrome autofill.

Nobody around here can figure out where my mailbox is. (The mailman doesn't believe I actually live here. The first time he drove down the driveway to bring me something that wouldn't fit in the box he asked me if I'm some kind of book editor. I told him I am. He thinks this is just my office. So small.) The voter registration people even put me in the wrong county. The computer tells them my address is 12 miles north of here in the next county. It would be so simple if I could just tell people the latitude and longitude in decimal degrees, or upload a cell phone picture of my house with location turned on. Instead they told me to go to the Secretary of State website, fill out a form, print it, and mail it to the county seat. Isn't that adorable?

Now it might not be that Fed-Ex is rural phobic. They might just be incompetent. I followed a saga on Twitter recently where Amy Berg's new Macbook Air was delivered to the wrong address. (She's a TV writer) She convinced Apple she didn't have it and they sent another one, again, delivered to the wrong place in LA. I guess there was a Customer Woman to sign for it so she just took somebody else's package. (Chek Lap Kok!) Amy did finally get her computer after about 2 weeks.

I think all this is a problem technology can solve. I am available as a consultant, FedEx. Call me! You have my number. It's right there on the box.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Landscaping by Elimination

Today I did a little yard work. My aunt says I shouldn't call it the yard, I should just call it woods, but those verbal habits are hard to break. It isn't really accurate to call my house a house either, but nothing else will stick. Cabin, studio, cottage, micro-dwelling -- it's just the house.

Yard work involves me indulging all my whims and prejudices regarding flora.  I built my house right in the middle of the woods and started mowing between the places I wanted to go. Then for the last 6 years I've been sort of tidying up between those paths. I never buy plants. I strictly practice landscaping by elimination. I hate briars. All briars. If it grows up trees and bushes and it has thorns it is my mission to cut it off at the ground and pull it down and burn it up. Blackberry really pisses me off. I hate blackberry briars. The thorns have some kind of toxin on them that makes them hurt more than they ought to when they stick you. I cut them down. I burn them up. I do this yard work when it's cold enough to wear a thick long sleeved shirt and leather gloves.

My favorite tree is sparkleberry. I have a lot of these growing in my yard. I pull the briars out of them and prune them into pleasing shapes. When I find a chinquapin coming up I cut the briars away from it and encourage it. I also encourage blueberries. They come up all over my yard. Wax myrtle, black gum, French mulberry, sassafrass, oak, cherry, elm, ironwood, dogwood -- I've got it. I have a lot of longleaf trees in all stages of development. When they are in the wiregrass stage they are like puppies to me. Cute as can be. I mow around all the wiregrass stage longleaf. When they start to shoot up there's always one that gets an early lead and its shade leaves the other ones at a disadvantage. Steps must be taken.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

There is no such thing as Girls' Science!

That evolution video is on boingboing. I picked up this link from the first comment. Creationists can call me a show mare and I don't care, but THIS? This offends me to the CORE. Girls' Science? What part of this is science?! It's the cosmetics aisle with a pink border! There is nothing that is not wrong with this. I think the Mystic (Krazy) Crystals offend me the most.

Wait, there is one thing I can approve. They got the apostrophe right in Girls'.

Of course we believe in evolution!

This summer I got a DM on Twitter from a PR guy in North Carolina. He asked for my email address so he could send me this (edited for length):
Hi Barbara - As you may know I'm David Wescott, a PR flack living in Durham, NC. In my spare time I like to do advocacy projects with scientists and science communicators.

I know you heard about the video on YouTube from this year's Miss USA pageant, where all of the contestants were asked the question "should evolution be taught in schools?" and the answers weren't exactly what we'd hope they'd be. This quickly led to criticism from scientists and a parody video where fake pageant contestants were asked the question "should math be taught in schools?"

Given your background, I'm sure I don't have to explain how this is a hot-button political issue for many people. The discussion becomes so polarized so quickly that there never seems to be time for the most important thing - a positive, easy-to-understand message that explains why teaching evolution is so important. We can make the case for teaching evolution without resorting to attacks or getting baited into political sideshows that allow critics to shift the discussion away from the merits.

We're asking people to to provide a very brief video of themselves basically answering the question "why should evolution be taught in schools?" We're going to create a compilation video of women scientists answering the question much in the same style as the Miss USA video. (We think it's important to provide a showcase for female role models beyond beauty pageant contestants.) Then we'll use social media and PR tactics to promote what we're doing to moderate, sensible non-scientists who simply may not have all the facts - the people we're actually trying to convince.

I'm wondering if you'd like to provide a video and/or let other scientists you think might be interested know about this.

Now I'm not sure about the hot-button political issue and I'm not sure what he means by "given my background." But I had a lot of free time this summer and I liked the idea that I could do this while collecting unemployment compensation from Texas, so it's almost like they are paying to promote teaching evolution in school. So I replied (edited to protect the innocent):
Hi David,

You can put me down for a video.

This issue resonates with me particularly. I have a beautiful and gifted relative who was Miss {My Small Town} in 19XX and first runner up in the state pageant in the Miss America pageant system. She went to one of the top engineering schools in the country as a Presidential scholar. She was president of her sorority and the homecoming queen. She graduated as an Industrial Engineer. I recently realized that she's a CREATIONIST! I mean, I knew she was a religious zealot, but I was prepared to overlook that since she's the only person in my family who ever invites me to anything and we could just stick to engineering topics and be fine. But creationism, man, I was floored. And her son is HOME SCHOOLED! How will he EVER get the real story?!

Well he will certainly go to college. I just have to hope he has the rational sense to go to a good one. And then it is a UNIVERSITY responsibility to teach evolution. But what about his mother? She has a degree from one of the top ranked engineering schools in the nation and they didn't teach her evolution! They didn't actually teach it to me either as a physics major. I'm not really sure how I know it. We had the same biology classes in high school and I'm almost sure they taught evolution. I suppose the reinforcement I got from my family, the other side from hers, was key.

So why is health class in college with the slides of venereal disease a state requirement and not evolution? Georgia is actually required to teach it in high school now, by law, but I worry about the home schooled people. Is there anything to be done to educate them in college? The curriculum is so tight. I don't care if they just put an evolution book in required English class, do something! Make it like AP English so you can get out of evolution in college only if you prove you learned it already in high school?

Anyway, send me the requirements for the video and I'll try to think of something cogent to say about evolution.

So I told the organizer up front that I am not college educated about evolution. I never claimed to have any credentials, only an emotional connection to the topic. He sent me these instructions.
Here's the plan. we're hoping you can provide us, by August 31 a brief video answering the following questions:
1. Why should evolution be taught in schools?
2. What is one way that studying evolution has benefited our society?
3. Can you imagine science without the theory of evolution?
I wrote something up and found I was completely incapable of memorizing it. I put it in my phone and read it over and over in free moments. Whatever kind of ADD I have is the variety that makes rote memorization impossible. I ended up putting my monitor next to the camera and held my trackpad to scroll through the text and tried not to look like I was reading. Even when I wasn't reading my eyes pivot like a ghost crab just from trying to remember. I suck at videos. But I said I'd do it, and they said they'd edit it, so I had to send it in. I expected the editor would spend a lot of time with his head in his hands. The idea that all these separate people would make video that would mesh was far fetched to me. I was right, too. My friend Dr. McWhorter watched the final compilation: "So the message is Blah blah blah blah blah blah?" Yeah that's what I got too.

PZ Myers put this video on his blog yesterday along with some commentary he found from detractors. And this personal reaction:
I confess to cringing in a few places — there’s too much ready equation of evolution with natural selection — but I certainly wouldn’t question the competence of these accomplished scientists, even if I might argue with them a bit.
I cringed too, PZ. And now I'm cringing again because I TOTALLY did that -- equated evolution with natural selection. I'm sorry! I didn't know that was bad. We were supposed to be talking about ways studying evolution has benefited our society. Maybe the example I thought of was ways studying NATURAL SELECTION benefited our society. I honestly thought they were related. I think it would be totally fair to question the competence of these accomplished scientists. I'm not that accomplished, just opinionated. I have free time. It's sort of the counter condition to being accomplished.

I suppose I am an illustration of the failure of our educational system, and another example of why PZ Myers hates physicists.

I am not sure about the details of the distinction between natural selection and evolution, but I am damn sure I don't believe in creationism. Richard Dawkins explanation of the strange path of the nerve in the neck of a giraffe sounds good to me. How my relative can believe it proves creationism instead baffles me utterly. When I was in elementary school we had a very old woman come to our class about once a week to talk about religion. She had boobs that hung so low they came down over her belt. I could never pay attention to anything she said because I was trying to imagine how she got dressed. How did she hold those up when it took two hands to buckle her belt? I remember her strange body shape vividly but nothing she ever told us about the bible. She was around when my mother was little too. I guess she had a less distracting figure when she was 25 years younger. My mother told me one day they learned about creation. She was intrigued and captivated. She went home and asked her mother, "Mama, we don't believe in evolution do we?" And my grandmother told her, "Of course we believe in evolution. Don't be ridiculous." And that was the end of that. My mother reckons she believed in creationism for about 4 hours. I suppose that's evidence right there that children are just naturally gullible, but tend to defer to their parents. I have no explanation for why an intelligent adult would believe a preacher over Richard Dawkins when it comes to this topic.

Anyway, the PZ Myers blog was to let people vent about how mean it was for some group called Uncommon Descent to call us "gals" and "show mares." Frankly I find their put-downs weak and it doesn't offend me at all. I feel worse that I screwed up the actual topic. Considering I am in fact incompetent, "show mare" is kind of a compliment. I guess I'm one of the ones that make them throw a qualifier before "young," but I like the association.
It shows sixteen female academics or science writers, mostly young, whose enthusiasm for evolution is so overwrought that they turn themselves into propagandists.
Eager to show how well they have been trained, they are like show mares who trot around the paddock jumping over each gate in turn. All the while they give the camera a look that says: “Aren’t I good?”
I'm pretty sure the way we mostly look wildly anywhere besides at the camera really says: "Aren't I done?" We definitely don't have the poise of the Miss USA contestants. And according to Penn Jillette they were only being judged by how they held themselves while they answered, not what they actually said. Which to a scientist is a complete non sequitur. How many Miss USA contestants could use non sequitur in a sentence? THAT is why we think we're so good.

Anyway, here's my unashamed propaganda about natural selection: the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution. (from the dictionary) I wasn't trying to piss off PZ Myers when I kept saying evolution. I read in the comments on his blog that the distinction is that evolution is random, not directed. Well that doesn't make a very good personal anecdote. I had to add some pictures to this video because it's bad enough to have to hear my voice. I don't have to see my face the whole time too.