Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Moving Out!

I've been thinking of moving EE to a new location for a while, and now it has finally happened. EE is now at evolutionengineered.com

I will be moving some of my favourite posts over in the next few days/weeks. And there will be new posts coming soon too.

It's been fun here at evolutionengineered.blogspot.com, and I hope the fun continues at evolutionengineered.com

See you on the other side!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Stanley Cup Playoff Post

It's the best time of the year! Stanley Cup Playoffs are here! In an earlier comment, I predicted the teams for the Conference Finals: Detroit and Chicago in the West; Boston and Carolina in the East (from which one can infer - correctly I might add - that I predicted the Rangers would beat the Caps!)

All comments regarding the playoffs and other hockey news is welcome here!

I know this is late, but at least the first round hasn't ended yet.

Gravity Works! (Well, Sort of)

"Is there something we don’t know about GRAVITY?”* was the cover story for the March 2009 issue of Astronomy. This piqued my interest since I recall reading an article last year about the Pioneer spacecraft not being where they were expected to be (of course, I neglected to bookmark it and now can’t find it. Help, anyone?), and I was curious if this article expanded on the Pioneer anomaly.

The author, Dr. John D. Anderson (formerly of NASA’s JPL and now a consultant for the Juno and Rosetta space missions), began with a very brief historical overview of gravitational theories, from Newton to Einstein. To date, Newtonian and Einsteinian (sp?) gravity has worked quite well for astronomers. However, there have been some curious anomalies.

The first two anomalies mentioned are relatively minor. First, the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is becoming more elliptical.

“[James G.] Williams [of Caltech’s JPL] reported in 2006 that the distance difference between the Moon’s farthest and closest approach to Earth is increasing nexpectedly by about 0.2 inches (6 millimetres) per year. ...

“After accounting for changes expected from tidal friction, Williams still has a residual change in the Moon’s orbit that he can’t explain.”
Second, the value of the Astronomical Unit (AU) is increasing by about 7 metres (or 0.000 000 047%) per century. IMO, these two anomalies can be considered trivial since the changes are so extremely small that one could consider them, and their effects, negligible.

Dr. Anderson then focused on the Pioneer Anomaly, that there seems to be some mysterious and unexpected force slowing down the probes:

“The tracking data showed that, in 1998, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft was about 36,000 miles (58,000 kilometres) short of what we expected, based on the laws of motion given by Newton and Einstein.. …

“The situation with Pioneer 11 is similar. …we have determined the spacecraft is about 3,700 miles (6,000 km) short of its predicted distance. It is as if something is putting the brakes on both spacecraft by just the right amount that they both change their speed at the same amount in the same interval of time.”
The final anomaly mentioned deals with “anomalous orbital energy changes of six spacecraft that flew by Earth for gravity assists… These changes do not obey Newton’s law of gravity.” These spacecraft include Galileo, Rosetta, and NEAR Shoemaker. The unexpected speed increases were small (from 1.8 mm/s for Rosetta to 13.5 mm/s for NEAR). At first glance, the data appears to suggest an inverse proportional relationship between magnitude of speed increase and closest approach to Earth (the closer the approach to Earth, the greater the magnitude of speed increase).

Are there explanations for these anomalies using already understood physical mechanisms? A proposal to explain the Pioneer anomaly is heat radiating from the Pioneer spacecraft. However, Dr. Anderson notes that if this were the case, then the rate of deceleration would have decreased instead of staying constant as observed for 11 years. With respect to the fly-by anomaly, currently understood effects have been found to be negligible or only account for a small fraction of the speed increase.

So is a new theory of gravity required? Dr. Anderson focused on one proposal - modified Newtonian dynamics, or MOND. Anderson notes that MOND “is not a theory, but a modification that simply fits the data.” The modifications are due to another anomaly, this one at the galactic scale.

“Since the 1970s, astronomers have known that the outer regions of galaxies appear to violate Newton’s gravity laws. We would expect the stars in a galaxy’s outer regions to travel in elliptical orbits with their orbital speeds decreasing with increasing distance. However, this is not observed. Instead of decreasing, the speeds are essentially constant over a wide region of the galaxy.”
The current theory in play to explain the above effect is “that the galaxies actually contain large quantities of unseen material [dark matter] that hold the stars in the galaxy.” Anderson acknowledged that if MOND is correct, dark matter would be superfluous and discarded.

I found Dr. Anderson’s article interesting and informative. First, I find astronomy very interesting (personal interest). Second, the article never made over-reaching and/or grandiose claims. Dr. Anderson simply stated the facts and the direction of research being done, but reported them in a manner that grasped my attention and interest. Finally, the article served as another reminder that we don’t know everything about our world and universe. Current theories, as well as they may perform, represent an incomplete view of our world and universe. Alternative thinking should not only be scrutinized, but welcomed.

*The article capitalized GRAVITY.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Now That I Have Some Free Time...

I find that free time to spend at EE is hard to find these days. One of my goals is to "tie up some loose ends" here that have been bugging me.

One of them is an apology to comments of Full Disclosure. One of these days, I will learn to shut down comments on specific threads.

I am also introducing two more blogs to the blogroll. I find Allen MacNeill to be one of the more engaging critics over at TT. Thus, I am re-including "The Evolution List" to the Blog Roll.

The second one is for the "truly brave" to dare to lurk/comment (for the dense, I'm joking). After lurking around "The Swamp"/"After the Bar Closes", I don't see what the big deal is about foul-mouthed adult men and women. After all, I've been to Fort McMurray! ;) So in a continuing effort to provide balance to EE, I'm including AtBC in the Blog Roll.

To close, I'm still alive. I'm thankful to be working and I am busy at home with family and home projects. But I also hope to still contribute to EE every now and then.

UPDATE (5-Apr-2009): AtBC, being a forum not a blog, is being moved to the FYI section.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Full Disclosure(?)

Are you a creationist? Do you believe in Teh Flood?

This was the second time I was asked/accused of being a creationist at TT. I don't like this question for several reasons:

1. It assumes there is something wrong with being a creationist (there isn't),
2. It's dishonest,
2a. The question seems more suited to distracting from the original argument,
2b. It isn't a strict yes or no question
3. If the one question answers yes, then, in the questioner's mind, this poisons all arguments from the one questioned.

To clear the air, I've offered to give full disclosure, but this has the drawback of never completely satisfying the questioner. I could make my position clear, but there would either be some aspect I'd be "overlooking" or it would give the questioner reason to disregard my arguments.

Also, one must keep in mind that my position - just like everyone else's - should be considered tentative. For instance, as recent as last May, I didn't consider common descent to be valid. However, that position has changed recently.

That said, I offer the following as insight as to where I am coming from. I will not respond to any comments on this thread. In fact, as soon as I see them, I will delete them.

-I am a Christian who accepts the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
-I believe God worked through 40 different people to create the 66 documents that make up the canonical Bible and I believe that the overarching message to be consistent and (in general) non-conflicting
-I believe Jesus entered human history and died on the cross to bridge the gap between God and man that was created by man's disobedience to God.
-I believe the universe is approximately 14 billion years old
-I believe the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old
-As a structural engineer, I depend on the laws of physics and chemistry in order to do my work properly, and I have no problem believing the validity of such laws.
-As a means to acquiring knowledge, I believe science and its laws have finite and definable limits, and it is the duty of science to determine such limits.

Is that enough to convict categorise me as being a creationist?

A Balanced Essay On The State Of ID

It's late, but I wanted to draw attention to (IMHO) is one of the more neutral and balanced essays regarding the scientific status of Intelligent Design. I hope to write in more detail about it at a later date.

Click here for the essay.

HT Bradford @ TT

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fire MacTavish!

I can be fairly patient as an Oiler fan, but I've reached my limit. Nine years of mediocrity is enough! The Oilers need to clean house and fire head coach, Craig MacTavish! And while they are at it, clean house and let the rest of the coaching staff go, too.

This is an open thread for those sports fans who need to vent.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Addition To The Blog Roll

It is always flattering to find out you have a following. EE has two followers, one of which I don't ever recall having the pleasure of discussing issues with on EE or elsewhere. (If we have, please refresh my memory).

Checking out Alaninnont's blog, Logically Wondering About Existence, he strikes me as an honest seeker of knowledge. So I will be listing his blog in my Blog Roll for now so EE visitors can check it out too.

Note: I dropped Darwinian Fundamentalism from the Blog Roll due to lack of posting (no posts since end of October).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Probabilistic Design

(This post originally appeared Jan. 14, 2009 at TT. I have re-posted here for further input.)

Approximately thirty years ago, the design methodology for structural engineers was deterministic. Discrete values were used to define loads/demand (D) and resistances/capacity (R). In the Working Stress Design method (WSD), a design was considered satisfactory if the ratio of R to D (representing the nominal resistance and nominal demand, respectively) was greater than or equal to a prescribed factor of safety, whose minimum value was based on engineering experience and was different depending on the structural element being designed. There are drawbacks to the WSD method*, one of which is it doesn’t adequately account for the variability inherent in R and D.

Today, most structural engineers incorporate probabilistic design into a new design philosophy called Limit State Design (LSD). From my graduate class notes:
“[LSD] is a design philosophy that requires the designer to recognize the various limit states for his/her structure and design to reduce the probability of each of these limit states being exceeded to an acceptably low level.”

It is now widely recognised that there are uncertainties in determining both R and D. Uncertainties in D (loads/demand) are due to the fact that they may vary depending on location and time (eg. there are no snow loads in summer, change of use). Different types of loads acting in combination serve to increase the amount uncertainty. There are three main factors that affect uncertainties in R (resistance/capacity): geometry, material properties and theory. The geometry of the member may be different than assumed during design (this is especially commonplace for cast-in-place concrete members). Similarly, material properties, such as strength, may be different than assumed. The strength of the member is determined using simplified equations that may not exactly represent the behaviour, which can be quite complex.

The range of values for R and D are assumed to be represented by lognormal distribution curves (See Figure 1). This assumption has been found to be reasonable because of the control of material properties and positive skewness of known load distribution curves. When R and D are plotted on the same graph, the location of the non-zero probability of failure is the region where the two curves overlap (D > R). This method of determining the likelihood of failure is known as statistical interference.

A convenient way to assess the probability of failure (D > R) is to consider a single lognormal distribution curve called the safety margin or S, where S = R – D (see Figure 2). The portion of the curve on the negative side of the graph (D > R) represents the probability of failure. This location is bound by bsS where b is the safety or reliability index and sS is the standard deviation for S. Figure 2 implies the higher b is, the lower the probability of failure will be.

However, most engineers (including myself) prefer to use deterministic values rather than probability distributions in their design calculations. Thus, the LSD method uses nominal values of D and R that are multiplied by load and resistance factors, respectively, that incorporate a low probability of failure. For a design to pass, the factored resistance must be greater than or equal to the factored demand, or f R ≥ aD, where f is the resistance factor (generally less than 1) and a is the load factor (generally greater than 1). The equations for f and a are derived using the lognormal distribution curve S (Figure 2) along with statistical mathematics and algebra. Thus, when engineers use the LSD, they can use discrete (nominal) values for R and D while accounting for uncertainties using load factors that were developed using probabilistic design theory.

Now that we've seen how structural engineers make use of probability theory in their designs, let's shift gears a bit. Is it plausible that the engineering method used to design life's biodiversity was based on probabilistic design? A piece of supporting evidence is that several evolutionary mechanisms tend to be stochastic processes, which means their behaviour could be potentially represented by distribution curves (normal, lognormal, or other). Thus, these curves have the potential to be incorporated into an engineering design methodology to design the first life form to evolve according to a preconceived plan (i.e. design objective).

I’m not alone in suggesting probabilistic design could have been part of the engineering design method used by a front-loading engineer.
“Life’s designer may have also made an intelligent use of chance. …the bait could have been the entire cell, or set of heterogeneous cells. What the blind watchmaker could subsequently find was then constrained by the carefully chosen initial conditions. …life’s initial conditions [may] have been rigged by the design of the cell’s architecture and the choice of which components to employ.” (emphasis mine)

The Design Matrix, Chapter 7, p. 153

The terms “bait” or “baiting evolution” are mentioned (in one form or another) several times in Chapter 7. IMO, this suggests that a front-loading engineer could use stochastic properties of evolutionary mechanisms to design the structure of the first life forms to achieve certain design objectives (my apologies to Mike if this was not his intended message).

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that probabilistic design was actually used by a front-loading engineer. I am only saying this is an intriguing, yet plausible, option that deserves a closer look.

*This is not to say that structures designed to WSD were unsafe and are ready to collapse at any moment. Quite the opposite: WSD would generally lead to “overly” safe, robust, and (more often than not) costly structures as compared to structures designed using LSD method.

A Challenge

Lately, I've found myself quoting and referring to The Design Matrix to answer questions from critics of front-loaded evolution (FLE). A lot of frustration could be avoided if the book was actually read and any references could be quickly looked up by both advocates and critics.

I also want to thank the critics here at EE by name.

Dave R.
Art Hunt
Tony Hoffman

I hold you to a high standard that I've found most critics of my TT posts do not possess.
(Please let me know if you don't want your name in this post and I'll remove ASAP).

In the spirit of a challenge given to me first by Dave R., I wish to issue a challenge to all critics who have NOT read The Design Matrix (DM). If you read DM, I'll read a book of your choice.


UPDATE 22-Jan-2009: I have one stipulation: the proposed book should be of comparable price with DM (currently just under $20 at Amazon). And kudos to Dave for taking me up on my challenge. I knew you'd be first! :)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

World Junior Champs Again!

Oh Canada! Five in a row! Again!

Hockey is Canada!
Canada is hockey, period!

Mike Gene's New Blog

Sometime over the Christmas holidays, the original Design Matrix blog was hacked and can no longer be accessed. Unfortunately, it looks likely that all the postings from that blog have been lost. idthink.net was also affected but Mike saved all the postings from it and plans to re-post them soon.

But Mike is taking the lemons dealt to him, and making lemonade by starting The Design Matrix blog anew. Comments can even be left, something that couldn't be done very easily at the old site. I encourage you all to visit and participate in the discussions.

Oh yes, and a Happy 2009 to y'all!