Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Diet of Gastornis - Popular TV vs. Peer-Reviewed Literature

The Diet of Gastornis

Popular TV vs. Peer-Reviewed Literature

My introduction to the large flightless bird known as Gastornis occurs in the 2001 BBC documentary Walking with Beasts, a 6-part miniseries that looks at "snapshots" of life, and especially mammal life, during the Cenozoic era (the geological era that begins following the extinction of the dinosaurs). The first episode takes place in the warmer years of the early Eocene epoch, some 49 million years ago.

Walking with Beasts characterised Gastornis as a predator, not unlike the "terror birds" that would later dominate South America. Walking with Beasts represented this belief by featuring a Gastornis chasing several mammals belonging to a progenitor species of modern horses. Video of one of the chase sequences (this one ending in success for Gastornis) below the fold:

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Strange Case of Ashley Madison in Ottawa

The Strange Case of Ashley Madison in Ottawa

Recently, the big news in Ottawa surrounds information pertaining to the website Ashley Madison, a website that facilitates sexual encounters and romantic relationships.

The key distinction between Ashley Madison and other dating/"hook-up" websites is that it is explicitly aimed at people within marriages (or, presumably, other committed relationships) who are seeking to have affairs. If you are looking for some action on the side, Ashley Madison is here to help you.

While the information in question may have been available publicly in the past, it has been thrust into the public eye again following revelations that Ashley Madison was subject to a massive hack, and the hacker (apparently someone with inside access to the site) purloined credit card information for many millions of the site's subscribers.

But the hacking alone is not what's making headlines in Ottawa. Rather, it's the information about Ottawa that has come to the fore.

Ottawa, it seems, is a city full of aspiring adulterers.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

A Quick Peek Under the Covers: These Fragile Bodies

A Quick Peek Under the Covers

Episode 2

These Fragile Bodies

Welcome to another episode of "A Quick Peek Under the Covers", in which we look at cover versions of songs which are as good as or better than their originals. This time out, we are going to look at the song "Lovers in a Dangerous Time", by Bruce Cockburn (pronounced "CO-burn"), and the cover of the song by Barenaked Ladies.

(Image credit True North, MetalGuruMessiah)

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

"Lovers in a Dangerous Time" is a song by Bruce Cockburn, who was born in Ottawa, Canada. The song was recorded in 1984 for Cockburn's album Stealing Fire.

Cockburn reports being inspired to write the song while thinking of the stirrings of romantic feelings in young teenagers, in the face of the potential threats of the day (in 1984, this would include the early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the Cold War).

The song has not been covered often. Indeed, it appears that Barenaked Ladies' version is only the second cover version of the song. Barenaked Ladies recorded their cover of the song for a 1991 Bruce Cockburn tribute album, Kick at the Darkness. The cover, apparently playing a key role in their own rise to prominence, would appear on their first greatest hits album.

New Material!

New Material!

After an overlong hiatus, I'm pleased to say that I've got new material up here at Idiomatic Composition.

With any luck, I'm here to stay.

I feel like perhaps this is appropriate:

Jurassic World Sucked - Here's Why

Jurassic World Sucked.

(Here's Why)

I recently had occasion to Jurassic World, the first new movie in over a decade in the Jurassic Park film franchise, and one that in many ways serves as an homage to the original.

While it was overall an entertaining experience, in many ways the movie, well, sucked. In thist post, I'll explain why.

Because the movie is still relatively new, I should note that this post therefore has a

Spoiler Alert!!

The rest of my explanation, in which I cover why the film sucked, and those things it did well all the same, is below the fold.

(A Note on the "She-ness" of Dinosaurs: So far as I recall, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World, like those of Jurassic Park, were deliberately all engineered to be female. (One hopes that Dr Wu and his team were able to correct the erroneous DNA patching that allowed breeding among the dinosaurs in the first film.) As such, whenever I refer to a dinosaur (or flying/swimming reptile) individually, I shall use female pronouns.)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ten Thousand!

Short and sweet announcement:

I hit 10,000 visits to this blog this week.

It's not a lot, over the lifetime of the blog, but it's something.

Here's a song regarding "hit count" that any person putting content on the Internet can aspire to:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Sexist Ads for Video Games

Sexist Ads for Video Games

While browsing the Internet recently, I have come across a series of advertisements for a video game that in my view can most accurately be described as sexist. Here are two examples, although I have come across others:

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Is Somebody Singing?

Is Somebody Singing?

Author's Note: In light of the resuscitation of this blog, I have made significant edits to correct unusual lack of spacing that appeared when it was first published, and that initial efforts to amend had somehow failed to accomplish. (July 18 2015)

I have recently become enamoured with a project undertaken this past winter by CBC Music, the Coalition for Music Education, and the Canadian Space Agency: a song, sponsored/commissioned by these groups, crafted and performed by the Canadian pop-rock band Barenaked Ladies and (now-retired) Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. (1)

The treat for nerds, such as myself, is that this song, I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing?), was recorded while Hadfield was serving a tour of duty on the International Space Station, making it the first piece of music consisting of a collaboration of people on Earth and in space simultaneously.

(Parenthetically, I would be remiss in failing to note the play on words in the abbreviated form of the song's title, matching the abbreviation for the space station itself. To boot, Hadfield himself was the first person to record both a piece of music in space, Jewel in the Night, and a music video, a revised version of David Bowie's Space Oddity, making him unique in the annals of performing musicians.)

But beyond the nerd appeal, I enjoy Is Somebody Singing as a song, that is to say, in my estimation it is a very good song in and of itself. Let's have a watch & listen and then break things down a bit.

Is Somebody Singing?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bait-and-Switch: Arguing Against Scientific Consensus


Arguing Against Scientific Consensus

Author's Note: This is an expanded version of this comment I wrote, with reference to this comment, by a regular commenter and apologist for various forms of purported therapeutic products and services which might more accurately be described (at least in this author's opinion) as "rank quackery".

In politically-controversial (if not scientifically-controversial) bodies of knowledge with large, well-settled factual support, it is a common occurrence to encounter those arguing against those bodies of knowledge, specifically by attacking what would otherwise be the entirely unsurprising near-unanimity - or, as used in the rest of this post (and elsewhere), the consensus - among relevant subject-matter experts.

There are two rhetorical devices that can be used to mount such attacks. The first, which I shall not examine in detail here, is the technique of asserting the existence of a countervailing bloc of subject matter experts, a bloc which is asserted or insinuated to be of some significance as compared to the subject matter experts upholding more mainstream positions. Such is the technique used by the OISM Petition Project (discussed here and here at the climate science website Skeptical Science) with respect to global warming/climate science, or by, say, various forms of creationists with respect to biological evolution of organisms.

The second rhetorical device, which is the subject of this post, is to attack the very notion of scientific consensus among subject-matter experts. Perhaps the most famous such line of argument was made by the late physician, author, and film/TV producer Michael Crichton:

Friday, 1 February 2013

Open Letter to Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation

Post-Publication Update: Effective the afternoon of February 1st (if not earlier), Bust A Move has dropped Jenny McCarthy from the line-up and replaced her with Tommy Europe. I'll admit I know nothing about Mr Europe, but he's most likely an improvement over Ms McCarthy. (If nothing else, he is not the public face of a crank organization like Generation Rescue.) Here's to one and all who wrote in to the ORCF, the Bust A Move committee, posted on Facebook, Tweeted, and otherwise campaigned to make this happen.

While taking my son to an appointment at the local children's hospital (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario - CHEO), I was most displeased to spy, in the newspapers offered at the gift shop, an article noting that Jenny McCarthy, model and actress-turned-anti-vaccine activist, had been invited by the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation to participate in their "Bust A Move" fitness fundraiser for breast cancer research (see article describing criticism of this action at the Ottawa Citizen online edition).

So I've decided to write the ORCF and express my dismay. If you're interested, see their contact page, from which the email addresses of the CEO and various marketing folks at the foundation can be contacted. I encourage you to write in if you think it's inappropriate for someone whose advocacy distorts scientific research and denigrates lifesaving medical practices to be taking part in a cancer foundation fundraiser.

Here is the (very slightly edited) text of my email (hyperlinks have been embedded for brevity):