Thursday, April 28, 2005

Friday Farm Blogging--The Red-winged Blackbird

This is a Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus. In my neck of the woods, general opinion is ambivalent at best, but more often it is considered a pest. They are frequently used as target practice by farmers and children with new BB guns. When they gather in large flocks, they can eat a large volume of grain, which is one cause for contempt, but they do eat some insects and other small animals. An even more frequent cause for dislike of these animals is their habit of nesting in large roosts, which cause noise and mess. Their droppings in these areas, especially in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, make a good harbor for Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungus which causes a potentially fatal lung disease in humans known as Histoplasmosis.
The key to identification of this bird is obvious, it is black with a yellow-bordered red shoulder patch.

Don't forget to check out the Friday Ark.

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Availability Heuristic

This is a term that I learned in a college psychology class years ago and rarely if ever hear specific mention of this term, although we experience examples of it every day. Here is a definition from Wikipedia. Basically this occurs when people estimate the probability of an outcome based on how easy that outcome is to imagine or recall, resulting in the overestimation of occurrences which are vivid or emotionally charged.

This phenomenon came to mind today as I was reading a brief article in the May Discover Magazine titled "One thing you can't put off: DEATH". The article mentions research that dispells the myth that terminally ill patients can postpone their passing until after an important holiday or birthday or until they are surrounded by loved ones. The emotions surrounding an event like that are much more easily recalled than the uneventful passing of someone in the middle of the night on a tuesday of a regular work week with few or no loved ones around. The easy recall of the more emotional death causes it to seem more likely.

Another example would be the feeling that washing your car causes it to rain. You are much more likely to remember the times that you washed your car and it rained becuse of the ensuing anger or disappointment, than all the times you washed your car and it didn't rain which again causes it to seem more likely.

Here is a good piece on Personal Experience and Coincidence which includes an explanation of the availability heuristic. This is from Critical Thinking Lessons at Scottsdale Community College.

Although I have no doubts about the information presented in the Discover article, I find the timing of two deaths in American history interesting. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two great American founding fathers, died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Friday Road Ditch Blogging-Frogs

Last week I took my camera down to the farm. The ditches had plenty of water so I was able to get some good wildlife pics. Here are a couple of true frogs. The one on top I believe is an American Bullfrog-Rana catesbeiana. Note the large eardrum and it is without dorsolateral ridges. On the bottom is a Green Frog-Rana clamitans Like the bullfrog, it has a large tympanum, but it also has a pair of dorsolateral ridges running down the back which is not seen in the bullfrog. Also pictured is a clutch of eggs which I presume to be the eggs of one of these types of frogs.

Don't forget to check out The Friday Ark

UPDATE 10/10/05: Here is another Bullfrog from Snail's Tails

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Excerpt-Adams on Dolphin Intelligence

I mentioned way back on March 8, 05 that I was going to reread the H2G2, and I have been, but usually only 1 or 2 short chapters per night. I am definitely going to be finished by April 29, which is the opening of the movie. In the meantime, I just thought I would share this part of what I read last night-chapter 23, 1st paragraph.
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had acheived so much-the wheel, New York, wars and so on-while all the dolphins had ever done was muck around in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed they were far more intelligent than man-for precisely the same reason.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Friday Backyard Blogging-Robin

click the pic to enlarge

My grandparents told me that if I wanted to catch a robin, all I had to do was pour salt on its tail. I guess I can put that in the same file as "if you play with fire it will make you pee in the bed". I did not get close enough catch this neighborly robin, but I did get close enough to get some good photos. I can't tell if its a male or female, but the key identifying features are the reddish orange breast, broken eye ring, and white-tipped tail.

Don't forget to check out The Friday Ark

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Life's Top Ten Greatest Inventions

NewScientist has a good article on its selections for Life's Top Ten Greatest Inventions. My favorites are the last three on the list: parasitism, superorganisms and symbiosis.


Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Animal Blogging-Lizards

These lizards hang out in front of my house, sunning on the bricks during the warm months. This week was the first time I have seen them this year. They are Eastern Fence Lizards (correct me if I'm wrong). I can't tell their gender from these pics. Usually the Male will have blue markings on their bellies and necks. Here is a picture of the underside of a male lizard. The link also has some more interesting info about the Eastern Fence Lizard. Later this season hopefully I will have some Skinks to show as well.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

BrainGate Update #2-Recruiting for Clinical Trials

Cyberkinetics-Neurotechnology Systems Inc. is now recruiting subjects for clinical trials for the BrainGate Neural Interface System for individuals with severe motor impairments from spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy or stroke. Subjects have to live within a 2 hour drive of a study center which are located in Boston, Chicago, and Providence. Here is a link to their website for more info.
Here and here are places where I've previously mentioned this with further links.
Also here is a brief educational video about the project.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Friday Animal Blogging-Ducks

Due to PZ Meyers' regular requests for non mammalian animals on the Modulator's Friday Ark, I have decided to post animals today and send them over. These ferocious feathered dinosaurs have been terrorizing the ecosystem of the neighborhood pond for about a year now. It took two crackers tossed into the water to get them up from there resting state. They quickly overtook the unsuspecting saltines and went on a hunt for more.

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