Category Archives: Personal
Some bugs from my mother’s garden
Mom found some caterpillars munching on flowers in her back yard today. At first I thought they might be larvae of the moth Manduca quinquemaculata, AKA the “five-spotted hawkmoth” the AKA the “Tomato Hornworm”:
However my mother said she had looked those up and that these caterpillars were different. After looking them up myself I agree they do look a little different, but not much. I’ll be tagging my friend Don—a lepidopterist—to see what he thinks they might be (perhaps a closely related species?).
There were a number of individuals ranging in size and coloration. There were these two individuals that were about 1.5 to 2 inches long (fingers for scale):
Here is a close up of one of the smaller larva. Note the shed skin on the stem below and to the rear of the caterpillar.
Then there were these two larger larvae (2.5 inches or so). Note the slight difference in coloration between the two:
Then there was the beefiest cater-critter of them all. About 3 inches in length and rather radically different in coloration. Different species or do they change coloration as they molt? Again I’ll be deferring to my freind Don on this one.
My mother is going to attempt to rear them to adulthood, so perhaps I will have an update with some pictures of the adults in future.
Update: My friend Don got back to me and said the following (with a caution that these are not the group of moths in which he specializes:
“Looks like a white-lined sphinx moth larva. Hyles lineata. They feed on a variety of plants, and with this year’s rain should be all over. I’ve seen the larvae by the thousands at places like Anza Borrego State Park. The adults come to blacklights in most places around here.”
Looking at pictures of H. lineata this appears to my non-person eyes to be correct;
Goodbye Stan Lee
So I was on a panel discussion about micro vs. macroevolution…
Several weeks back I get an email from Phil Calderone, a member of one of the local atheist/agnostic/freethought groups (I.E.A.A.), asking if I would like to act as a fill in on a (then) upcoming “believers vs. non-believers” panel discussion on the subject of micro vs. macroevolution. Apparently, one of the persons originally invited was not going to be able to participate and he needed a fill in and was pointed towards me by Dr. Brad Hughes, who many years ago I had helped (along with others) prepare for a debate with “Dr.” Kent Hovind.
After some trepidation—due to having never done any public speaking before—I agreed to participate as long as it was understood that I was unlettered and neither a paleontologist or biologist but rather a mere amateur naturalist who has had a bit of experience in the creation/evolution debate.
The format of the discussion was meant to be a relatively informal back and forth between four people with two on each side. One the “believers” side there was a gentleman named Kelly Clemensen, of something called the Areopagus Project, and Dr. Paul Giem of Loma Linda University (see also Giem’s web page here). On the non-believers side was myself and Phil Calderone who was to moderate but had to fill in the second non-believers chair for another person who couldn’t make it.
I will not go into any more description of the event as it was recorded on video and you can watch the proceedings for yourself below. However, truth and honesty before all I will be addressing at least two places where I know I screwed up in the discussion below the video.
Please feel free to point out any other mistakes I made, or address the many points made by the creationists that went unaddressed by either Phil or me during the discussion. I know there are whole bunches of things that our opponents said that was missed or deserved more in depth dissection.
Now that you have, hopefully, watched the video there are two places that I realized I messed up pretty much right after the debate. One was minor memory failure, misattribution about punctuated equilibrium. The other was a more significant—at least in my opinion—point were I brought up a group of fossil organisms that was really something of a red-herring—though I committed the fallacy out of partial ignorance—and should have known better from other statements I myself had made at other points in the same discussion!
A little help for a pooper-pup
My sister is looking for a little help for her gentleman friend’s pup-pup, Bubba. They got some bad news from the veterinarian that Bubba may have cancer and they need some financial assistance to get him the tests and treatments he’ll need. So they have set up a Gofundme page to take donations, please help if you can, even a couple bucks will do. Thanks!
Merry Christmas (etc.) Everyone!
Beware the Coursera bait and switch!
On July 30 I signed up on Coursera to take their “verified certificate” version of the course Evolution: A Course for Educators, taught by Joel Cracraft and David Randle of the American Museum of Natural History. I figured it would be fairly easy given my background and the certificate would add a little something to my resume. So, as I said, I signed up, paid the $29 fee for the certificate got an email receipt back from Coursera and waited for the class to start on Aug. 3rd.
Aug. 3rd quickly rolls around and I get another email, ostensibly from Cracraft & Randle, welcoming me to the course.
Then I tried to log in and start the course only to get a 404 error message telling me that the page for the course isn’t there.
I contact Coursera and they send back the usual “use X browser & clear your cache” troubleshooting message. I was already using browser X and I cleared my cache but this has no effect and I inform Coursera of this.
Next I get an email telling me that the course I signed up for has “changed format” (apparently in a matter of days) and that I needed to “un-enroll” from the old course, get my money back and then re-enroll in the new version.
One problem though, the new “format” is $20 more than the old one!
I suggest to them that since I already paid the price they had asked for (and got a receipt & welcoming email etc.) that they should allow me access to the course.
They responded by refunding my money and telling me (in corporate happy talk) that it was too damn bad and that if I wanted to take the course I would have to cough up $49 dollars, going so far as to suggest that I look into their financial aide services if I thought that would help.
Well, instead of paying more money I am telling everyone I know about their bait and switch and asking that you pass this on on Facebook and Twitter and the like. Thanks!
By the way, does anyone out there know Cracraft or Randle? I wonder what they would think of how Coursera treats their would-be students.
[And I was so looking forward to the Dinosaur Paleobiology course they offer as well…]
Marriage Equality at last!
I cannot let this wonderful historic day go unremarked upon here on PCwP. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of marriage equality for all Americans straight or gay! Good on the SCOTUS majority! Well done! Here is a link to their official decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
As for the SCOTUS minority, congratulations, you will go down in history as those on the wrong side of the fight for freedom, equality, and humanity.
And now a little poorly concealed bragging
Last weekend while I was awaiting delivery of my copy of Cambridge University historian of science Nick Hopwood‘s new book Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud (2015) on 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel and his (in)famous embryo illustrations, (which I have written about a few times here an PCWP and elsewhere), I got a Facebook notification that I had been “tagged” in a post by my friend (in real life, not just Facebook) and colleague Dr. Nick Matzke. The somewhat cryptic post said the following:
Hey look who’s in the acknowledgements – Troy Britain
Attached to this comment was the following picture:
Thereafter the comments conversation between Nick M. and I went like this:
Me: Wait, wait, wait, this isn’t Hopwood’s new book is it (my copy is in route)?!
Nick: Yep it is!!
Me: Holy crap!
Apparently Professor Hopwood was kind enough to mention me (and Nick Matzke as well) in the acknowledgements section of his new book (page 304).
The relevant section reads as follows:
For crucial pieces of advice, I thank Thomas Brandstetter, Troy Britain, Solveig Jülich, Ron Ladouceur, Nick Matzke, Signe Nipper Nielsen, Ron Numbers, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, and Constance Sommerey…
Quite an honor! All the more given the company of people like Nick Matzke, Ron Numbers and the rest.
Thank you Prof. Hopwood, you are too kind! And thank you for writing this book! It needed to be done and I look forward to reading it (or rather the rest of it, I’m up to chap. 3 already)!