Caturday: Susie

We got Susie in 2005 from our favorite shelter. We had gone out for a little Black Friday shopping and stopped by the shelter for some kitty time.  Susie jumped up on Sarah’s lap and sat, purring and demanding petting, for a long time. The next Monday I went back to pick her up.


Susie chilling with a catnip banana. It’s aaallllll good.

She turned out to be a real scardy-cat, but she eventually did come to love Sarah. She tolerated me as the food giver and box cleaner.

After 9 years Susie is still a scardy-cat everywhere but in the bed, which she seems to have designated as her safe zone. Not only is she not scared when she gets into bed with us, she can be quite demanding for attention. She is a very silly cat.

Happy Belated Fountain Pen Day!

Yesterday, the first Friday in November, was Fountain Pen Day. This annual event is intended to celebrate and promote the use of fountain pens.

I have been using fountain pens off and on since college. I think the first one I ever bought was a cheap Sheaffer, which I no longer have. I’m pretty sure it was a “No Nonsense” model, but I somehow lost it over the years. I just remember loving to write with it. Also as an undergrad (or possibly early grad) student, I acquired a couple Parker Vectors. I really loved these pens, and have acquired a couple more since. In fact, I just yesterday I filled one with Diamine’s Oxblood ink to use as a grading pen. (I often joke with my students about “bleeding on” their papers when I grade. I think having a blood-colored ink really sells the joke!)

So why to I write with fountain pens?

They’re very comfortable. You don’t need to apply any pressure on the paper with the pen. The nib simply drags along the paper as it goes. I don’t write by hand nearly as much as I used to, but in the days of 30-page homework assignments in grad school and handwriting HW solutions as a professor, my hands tired quickly. I crave a high-contrast line, and a ballpoint pen simply can’t give that without significant pressure. (Forget about using a pencil!) Rollerball pens are better than ballpoint, but I still find them tiring. The only kind of pen that rivals a fountain pen in terms of strong line with light pressure is a felt-tip pen.

The ink choices are amazing! Most fountain pens are not disposable. You will add additional ink as you use them. Some pens have a permanent reservoir for ink and must be filled from a bottle. Others take disposable cartridges. Most in the latter category also allow for the use of a converter that allows the user to fill from a bottle. I have a couple pens that can’t use a converter, but I can refill the cartridges with a syringe.

All of this means that you have a lot of freedom to choose types of ink and colors. Some fountain pen inks are water-resistant on paper, most are not. Some flow well, others are dry. Some bleed through paper, others don’t bleed at all, especially on good paper. Whatever type of ink you like, for whatever purpose you might want to use it, there is a rainbow of color choices available to you.

Fountain pens look cool. Okay, that depends on your definition of cool. Perhaps that make you look nerdy, but nerdy can be chic. Look at this pen, which I happen to have filled with brown ink at the moment.

The bronze-colored metal body is very attractive, and the end of the cap (not shown) was designed after the handle of a walking stick owned by Sir Isaac Newton. This pen is a true joy to write with. It is also very eye catching in meetings and a great conversation starter.

If you really want to try a fountain pen, and I encourage you to do so, check out the Pilot Varsity. This disposable fountain pen is rather inexpensive. You can buy it in black, blue, or a variety of colors. Actually, this pen doesn’t have to be disposable. If you are clever and careful, you can remove the nib and feed, wash ink from those parts and the reservoir, then refill with any other ink using a syringe, eye dropper, or careful pour.

Next, join the Fountain Pen Network. Read the forums, educational documents, and reviews. You may just learn to love writing again.

Caturday: Gabby

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. One reason is that I had a very busy summer. To be honest, however, I felt an obligation to finish out my answers to the 22 Inane Questions from Creationists (see previous blog posts). I have to admit that as I started writing out responses I lost interest very quickly. Continuing to answer those questions became a tedious exercise. However, I felt I had to address them before I went on, so I just didn’t write anything at all.

Well, screw creationists. Their arguments make us all dumber. Instead, let’s focus on cats.


This is Gabby (short for Gabrielle, named after Xena’s sidekick). We adopted her in the summer of 2004, at the end of a weekend vacation to a wonderful Bed and Breakfast in Fort Myers, FL. We had stopped at a pet store on the way home to pick up some food for our five cats. We definitely didn’t need a sixth!

It was adoption day at the pet store. Sarah was intrigued by a pair of fluffy kittens, Trixie and Dixie.  The sign on the cage said they should be adopted together. As we watched, a family came up and adopted Trixie. When Sarah asked the attendant about the sign, she was told that they really needed to be adopted, even if it meant splitting them. The attendant pulled Trixie out of the cage and handed her to the family. Dixie, who was left behind, started crying loudly at the loss of her companion. When I saw tears streaming down Sarah’s face, I knew we had kitty #6. Dixie became Gabby.

Since that time, we have learned that Gabby is a little con artist. She cries out like that when she’s upset, when she’s happy, when she wants attention, when she doesn’t want attention, etc. She particularly likes to scream on special occasions, such as days that end in “y”. There’s nothing wrong with her; it’s just how she announces her presence.

Gabby was bullied a lot by Kurt and Jules. In turn, she likes to bully everyone else. She will cuddle with Sarah, but not very often with me. All she wants from me is food and spanking. Every time I walk into the bedroom she will run straight to the bathroom, jump into the sink, and scream at me until I spank her (like in this video, except that she likes to be in a sink instead of a lap).

I’d say Gabby is weird, but she’s certainly not the only one who likes to be spanked.

Responses to Creationists, Part 3

It has been a while since I posted two responses to Buzzfeed’s “22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution” (here’s part 1 and part 2). Let’s see how far we get this time.

The next one is nearly identical to one below, so I’ll address them both at once.

There is no inbetween…the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an official proof.

Why have we found only 1 “Lucy” when we have found more than one of everything else?

The first quote is hard to unpack. The second one helps explain it. Apparently the first person thinks there are no transitional hominid fossils, and that the Lucy specimen needs hundreds of pieces for an “official” proof of…what? This is such a poorly constructed statement that I have to chalk it up to muddled thinking.

The second seems to make it clear that the claim is that only 1 “Lucy” has ever been found. That, of course, is nonsense. There have been a number specimens that appear to be Australopithecus afarensis. Samples of other Australopithecus species have also been discovered. It’s not hard to check Wikipedia to discover lots of information about human evolution. While there are still many questions about the classification and interrelatedness of these specimens and their relationship to modern humans, it’s simply silly to state that “there’s only one.”

Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

I had to look this one up. Apparently there is a creationist claim that metamorphosis contradicts evolution.

The evolution of metamorphosis is an unanswered question, but that does not make it unanswerable. We know that metamorphosis evolved because it was not present in earlier organisms. How this happened is a matter for scientific inquiry. Here’s one possible explanation.

In contrast, creationists claim that metamorphosis is an example of irreducible complexity pointing to an intelligent designer. They claim that metamorphosis could not have evolved because they can’t imagine how an intermediate stage in evolution would be useful. Not surprisingly, this line of argument has been debunked when it has been tried in the past.

If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.

So many simply wrong statements on one short question. This will take a while to unpack.

Evolution is a theory. In science, a theory is a complex explanation of multiple related natural phenomena. Theories incorporate models and empirical laws to offer deeper explanations and predictions of observable

The germ theory of disease explains how microbial infection gives rise to many of the maladies we encounter. It distinguishes between viral, bacterial, and other microbial infections. It explains and makes predictions about immune response, antibiotic and antiviral therapies, etc.

The theory of gravity explains the attraction and interaction of astronomical bodies via a field theory. It incorporates Newton’s empirical law of gravitation as an approximation of these interactions under certain conditions. The theory also explains and predicts non-Newtonian phenomena such as gravitational collapse, orbital energy loss by emission of gravitational radiation, cosmological expansion, etc.

Evolutionary theory is both grander in scope than gravitation theory and better supported by multiple independent lines of evidence.

Evolution, gravitation, and germ theory are also facts. In science, we don’t typically use the non-technical word “fact” because it has a rather fuzzy meaning. Indeed, when we do use “fact” we tend to mean in it two different ways.

The first use of fact is mundane. Facts are data and observations. It is a fact that my meter gave a certain reading at a certain time in a certain experiment. It is a fact that a blood sample contains certain antibodies. It is a fact that a certain fossil is located in a certain geological stratum. In that sense, facts are the quanta of scientific knowledge — the individual bricks from which theories are built.

In his essay “Evolution as Fact and Theory” Stephen Jay Gould also points out that scientists use “fact” to mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” In this sense, evolution, gravity, and germ theory are facts. Simply put, they are too well supported by evidence to be “wrong” in aggregate. 

Nobody disputes gravity, or even Einstein’s theory of gravity. A few people dispute the germ theory of disease. Even more people dispute evolution. There is no scientific reason for this; the theories are all strongly supported by massive amounts of evidence. The latter two “perverse” responses are motivated by religion, not science.

It is rather sad that the perverse opposition to certain uncomfortable aspects of science have given rise to obfuscation and muddled thinking as exhibited in this question and the one I will address next:

Because science by definition is a “theory” – not testable, observable, or repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

Who defines “science” as a theory? Who defines “theory” as “not testable, observable, or repeatable?” Apparently this person, and nobody else I’ve ever met or read, does.

Science is not a theory; science is a process. Theories are built out of scientific progress. Science is what one does, theories are what one gets when one does science.

Theories are testable. Indeed, theories only develop after extensive testing and observation. Theories are not “guesses”. O.J. Simpson’s lawyers had a “theory” the Columbian drug lords killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. They didn’t have any evidence for it, nor did they need to. All they needed to do was to confuse a jury into doubting the evidence presented by the prosecution.

Similarly, creationism and intelligent design are not theories. These ideas have no explanatory power and they are not testable. They were created to confuse the populace into rejecting science, as this person clearly has.

Perhaps someday there will be theories of creationism or intelligent design. Perhaps these ideas will make testable predictions and be able to pass those tests. If so, then perhaps one day they could be taught in science class. I’m not holding my breath because, as I said in the previous post, creationism and intelligent design are nothing more than extensive arguments for “not evolution.”

So in answer to the question, I object to creationism and intelligent design being taught in school science classes because they are not scientific theories. They are collections of logical fallacies and arguments that are either not supported by evidence or flatly contradicted by the evidence. Their purpose and content are completely religious in nature and have no business in any public school or any private school that values science education.

Caturday: Claude

Caturday: Claude

Sarah and I adopted Claude in 1997. Our cat Allie had passed a few months before and there were no little fluffies in the house to love on. At the time, Claude was living with family friends who couldn’t keep him. They had named him Nickel, not because of his silver/gray color, but because he “wasn’t worth a nickel.” We changed the name right away.

When we first brought Claude home he mostly hid for a few days. He would come out from under the bed in secret to eat and use the litter box. Within a few days, he started getting up on the dresser and knocking things off, waking us up in the middle of the night. After a few more days of that, presumably testing to see whether we would try to kill him, he was fully open and affectionate. A year later, friends who house-sat for us for a few weeks experienced the same behavior. It was just his way.

Claude had a stub tail. We don’t know if he was born that way or if it was cut off when he was a kitten. He was very affectionate, and reasonably tolerant of the other cats as we acquired them. We got Jules to be his companion.

We lost Claude in December 2006 ( closing out our annus horribilis).

The Future Is Now


Is today the day that Marty McFly went to the future? Of course not. But that doesn’t stop people from reposting images of the time circuit from BTTF2, with the future date modified to the current day. Luckily, this Tumblr can help out whoever wants the future to be today.

Warning: If you post this link on social media, not everybody will get the joke. Instead of actually following the link, some will probably post a link to a Snopes article. These people are not aware of all internet traditions and should not be trusted driving in the faster lanes of the information superhighway.