Critical Section

Archive: June 29, 2003

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What was M.E.?

Sunday,  06/29/03  10:30 AM

My post about Mitochondrial Eve attracted a bunch of interest - thank you! - and several people asked a key question: what species was ME?

There is no direct evidence about ME at all - we have not found a fossil record of this particular individual.  We can infer logically that she must have existed, and we can deduce approximately how long ago she lived from the amount of variation in Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) among present humans - about 200,000 years ago.  This analysis also indicates the probable region in which she lived - East Africa.

From the age and region, we can deduce the species, see the following timeline:

modern human family tree

As you can see, homo heidelbergensis was the direct ancestor species for homo sapiens.  This species has been further divided into homo sapiens archaic and home sapiens modern; a distinction made based on recent fossil finds.  The earliest human skulls were recently found in Ethiopia, dated about 160,000 years ago.  ME was most likely homo sapiens archaic, although based on this date and region, it is possible she was an early homo sapiens modern.  [ thanks to Dennis O'Neil for the diagram ]

One fascinating point to make in this connection is that there is never a "first organism" for any species.  Much like ME itself, the crown of "earliest organism" for a species is retrospective, since speciation takes place over thousands of years and can only be discerned gradually.  The classic definition of species - organisms which can interbreed - is not as cut and dried as one would like; there are often cases where A can breed with B, and B can breed with C, but A cannot breed with C.

It is interesting to speculate on the early history of ME and her ancestors.  Was there a catastrophic event which eliminated many of ME's competitors, funneling the genetic ancestry through a single line?  Perhaps ME migrated into a region which was spared from a climatic or other environmental event.  Or perhaps ME embodied a mutation which conferred immunity from a particular disease.  ME's daughters and granddaughters might have followed a single evolutionary path, living together in the same region and contributing to a common gene pool.  Or perhaps one or more daughters split off, forming subspecies which ultimately died out.

The transition period from H. sapiens archaic to H. sapiens modern is about 50,000 years, or about 250,000 human generations.  Although that seems like a lot, this is actually a short timescale from an evolutionary standpoint.  The genetic changes over this period would be slight.

It is suggestive that ME apparently lived right at the earliest time where the fossil record indicates the transition from H. sapiens archaic to H. sapiens modern.  The family tree for ME must have contained thousands of branches which did not successfully make it to the present day, although we know from the very definition of ME that it does contain at least two which did!


email to Dave

Sunday,  06/29/03  06:18 PM

I sent the following email today, after seeing this homepage on Scripting News...

        To: Dave Winer (
Subject: You're Important

Dave -

I think I understand how you feel.  For years you persevered with RSS, fighting Microsoft alongside Netscape, and now that it is finally getting traction and being used widely, this Echo thing has come along.  I honestly don't understand why RSS has to be fixed - it doesn't seem broken to me - but what must be especially frustrating for you is that the reason seems to be that people don't like working with you, not because of some technical reason.  If RSS 2.0 needs extensions or the spec needs tightening up, fine, invent 2.1 and tighten up the spec.  If the metaWebLog API needs additional features or the spec needs tightening up, fine, extend the API and tighten up the spec.  But don't turn it into a personal attack.

I think you're really important.  I sometimes joke about you - I've been known to say my WN is 1/2 - but I don't mean anything by it really; like a lot of people I have respect for you and respect for the things you've built.  You have also kept the big picture - that it is important for small developers and users to unite on RSS otherwise some BigCo will have the opportunity to dictate.

Anyway, please hang in there.  Hopefully this Echo thing will pass, but even if it doesn't it will owe all its concepts and underpinnings to RSS.



Sunday,  06/29/03  06:27 PM

I talked to my Mom today.  She said my 'blog is getting boring, too much technical stuff and not enough politics.  Of course when I write about politics people tell me they don't care about that, they read for the technical stuff.  I guess I'll just have to write whatever I want, that's easiest anyway :)

So, I see where Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad have jointly declared a ceasefire .  I can't help but be cynical about this; they have a long list of demands from Israel.  As soon as it becomes obvious that the demands are not going to be met - and there is no political way they will be - it will give the terrorists an excuse to go back to violence.

I think President Bush has the right idea: U.S. Cautious about Palestinian Truce.  "The White House on Sunday called a three-month suspension of attacks by Palestinian militant groups a step in the right direction but said the Palestinian Authority must still dismantle 'terrorist infrastructures.'"  Yep.

Steven Den Beste is running a betting pool: how long till the next suicide bombing?  He thinks less than four days...

What happens when a government systematically denies the truth?  In a medical situation with extreme implications for the populace?  South Africans rape children as the cure for AIDS .  Apparently people believe that having sex with virgins will cure AIDS, mostly because they lack for real medical information.  Unbelievable.

Fortune - Krispy KremeI just got the latest issue of Fortune magazine.  Not good.  On the cover: Krispy Kreme is "America's hottest brand"; inside you can find The Hole Story.  Well I read it and I must say it shed no light whatsoever, even though the story is full of holes (sorry).  This could have been an interesting story about what makes a successful consumer brand, and how such a thing as a donut "tips", but no...  Also inside, a story about "the 50 best companies for minorities".  There are accompanying articles on "diversity", with the theme echoed by a lot of ads. 

C'mon, people, this is 2003.  Focusing on race is so 1900s.  Any differential treatment based on skin color is discrimination!  Do we run articles about "the 50 best companies for blondes"?  How about "the 50 best companies for short people"?  Or even "the 50 best companies for Italians"?  Perhaps because I've been a technologist in an industry like software which is highly integrated, but it seems people really don't pay attention to race any more.  I've worked with people from all over the world and from every race, and it just doesn't matter.  Companies hire and promote the best possible people for a position regardless of race because they must to be competitive.  I think articles like this one are a step backward; Fortune needs to wake up.

The NYTimes considers the implications of the success of Harry Potter and the bootlegged Hulk movie: Harry crushes the Hulk.  The point seems to be that kids like Harry Potter so they bought the new book, whereas they don't like the Hulk so they "pirated" it by downloading the bootleg.  Huh?  This is totally incorrect.  People paid for the book because they couldn't get the content any other way.  Imagine an e-book environment where reading was pleasurable (a really thin flexible tablet, or something like that), and imagine e-books were available on Kazaa (as they surely will be, someday); does anyone seriously doubt many many people and not just kids would have downloaded Harry?  The big difference - indeed the only meaningful difference - between books and movies at this point in time is the technology.  And that will change.

Tim Bray continues his series on search technology: Squirmy Words.  Yeah, "squirmy" is a technical term :)

A lot of reaction to Dave's taking down Scripting News for a day...  see The Scobleizer for links.

Don Park: My Take on Echo's Future.  "I don't think the chance of Echo replacing RSS is very good."  Don was an early supporter of Echo.

Dave Winer: Okay I think I've made my point.

Hey, Dr. GUI has a blog!  Warning this is for geeks only.  Dr. GUI is a mythical character from Microsoft's Developer Network newsletters; he basically does Q&A on highly technical issues posed by developers.  (GUI is an acronym for Graphical User Interface.)  One thing for sure, the good doctor is always "in".

Intellitoast.  Pretty cool for being a hot use of Flash :)


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About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
Emergent Properties
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji
The Nest
Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
Adding Value
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
Toy Story
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
solving bongard problems
visiting Titan
unintelligent design
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
triple double
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Holiday Inn
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker
vote smart
exact nonsense
introducing eyesFinder
to space
where are the desktop apps?
still the first bird
electoral fail
progress ratches
2020 explained