Monday, December 29, 2008

Cheney can't understand why he's unpopular

(Image via)

It seems that lame duck Vice President Dick Cheney has no idea why his approval ratings are so low.

How do you explain your low approval rating?

I don't have any idea. I don't follow the polls.

This is really not all that surprising. Do you remember Dick Cheney's demands for his hotel suites? There was one demand that really struck me at the time and helped explain much of his behavior and approach to politics.

And, of course, all the televisions need to be preset to the Fox News Channel

Having a very effective propaganda tool is a great thing to have when you're in power. But you must obey this one important commandment:

Thou Shalt Never watch thine own propaganda!

Doing so only weakens the mind. And I really enjoyed his defense of not watching the polls.

My experience has been over the years that if you govern based upon poll numbers, upon trying to improve your overall poll ratings, people I've encountered who do that are people who won't make tough decisions. And the job the president has and those who advise him is to make those basic fundamental decisions for the nation that nobody else is authorized or able to make.

There actually is some truth in what he says there. The problem is that people who govern according to the polls still make better informed (and hence better) decisions than those who surround themselves with "Yes Men" and watch their own propaganda.

Good Riddance Darth Vader!

Shop Vac

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I am 3000!

Call me Roberto Clemente. OK, not really.

But the Bad Astronomer has offered a luxurious prize to his 3000th Twitter follower. And guess who that be? You got it!

The proof is below.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve 1968

40 years ago today one of the greatest photographs in history was taken.

(via APOD)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ganymede occultation by Jupiter

This video released by NASA is too freaking cool!!!

According to NASA:
This movie shows Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, as it ducks behind the giant planet. Astronomers combined a series of images taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to make the 18-second movie. The 540 movie frames were created from Hubble images taken over a two-hour period on April 9, 2007.

Check it out!

(via Phil)

Credit: NASA, ESA, E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona), and G. Bacon (STScI)

2 Kings 2:23-24

My favorite bible verse!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shared Intuitions of Justice

Is your sense of justice reasoned and rational or is it intuitive? Is your sense of justice cultural or innate? Can people reach an easy consensus about which punishment should fit which crime?

According to University of Pennsylvania Law professor Paul H. Robinson, our sense of justice is intuitive and has a remarkable degree of agreement across various cultures. This is based on several studies where people were given either 12 or 24 scenarios (depending on the study) ranging from opportunistic theft to premeditated murder and asked to rank them according to how severe the punishment should be in each case. What has been consistently found is that people of all walks of life and from myriad diverse cultures tended to rank all the crimes in the same order and with a Kendall's W of 0.95 (for those of you not fluent in statistics, that pretty much means incontrovertible universal agreement).

The important thing to remember here is that the universal agreement is on the ranking and relative severity of punishment and not the absolute severity of retribution. In other words, people of different backgrounds will disagree about specific punishments for given transgressions, but they will rank the various transgressions virtually identically. As an analogy, this would be like people from different backgrounds having different measurements for the distance from New York to San Francisco. One person might say it's 2,905 miles, and another might say it's 4.685 kilometers. But both will readily agree that Denver is roughly halfway between them. So if you can get people to agree on a number for the distance between New York and San Francisco, it follows that they will subsequently agree on the distance to Denver, etc. Likewise, people tend to have a surprisingly close agreement on relative degrees of punishment. And when the maximum punishment allowed on their respective scales match up, so do the penalties for everything else.

In the 24 scenario studies, the subjects were asked to rank all the scenarios in order. But in the 12 scenario studies, they were given a punishment scale and asked to place each scenario on the scale based on what penalty was merited. They were also given actual court cases and asked to rank them too. The chart below (from Paul H. Robinson's presentation) shows how people ranked those scenarios and real life cases. The 12 test scenarios are on the left, and the real life cases are on the right.

Click on chart to embiggen (I don't know who coined that word, but I stole it from Phil.)

The most interesting thing about this chart is the disagreement on the right side of the chart between the solid and dotted lines. The solid lines represent how the subjects (in other words, most/almost all people) thought those crimes should be punished, and the dotted lines represent how the criminal justice system is mandated to and actually did sentence those offenders.

What we're seeing is a major disconnect between how people view justice; how they think it ought to be; how they think it is; and how it's actually doled out. There are many reasons why this might be so. Perhaps the architects of the criminal justice system simply don't recognize the intuitive nature of justice and instead try to find a rational algorithm by which to base justice--only to have it run counter to what most everybody considers to be fair. Or perhaps it's the result of noncontextual framing. Even with the scenarios where everyone agrees on their relative ranking, if those scenarios are separated from the pack and framed and argued in terms of absolute penalties, people can easily be fooled into temporarily agreeing with unfair retribution. Regardless, it's a problem. The criminal justice system doesn't work unless the populace trusts it. But if the relative penalties clash with people's intuitions, then it loses credibility with the very people it needs in order to be more than just some draconian ruffian institution. (And don't even get me started on the inherent injustice that is the infinite and dichotomous nature of reward and punishment prescribed in the hereafter according to many popular religions today.)

If you have 90 minutes, I highly recommend watching Professor Robinson's talk on this subject.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Paul Krugman Nobel lecture

Yesterday, economist and columnist Paul Krugman accepted the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics. To watch his lecture on new theories about International trade, click on the above picture.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sir Rupert vs. Prop 8

Shan, a YouTube friend of mine was recently featured on YouTube's front page with a prop 8 protest video done in nursery rhyme form.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

MoralMaster 2.0 Add-on Pack

Remember the MoralMaster 2.0? Well it seems that they finally released an add-on pack with the missing questions.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm a Beer Runner now!

Last Thursday I joined a local running club. After a month of doing virtually no exercise, it felt good to get out. I realized that I was a little out of shape and so was going to have to take it slowly. The run was perfect for that--it was a 2.9 mile jog to a place called The Prohibition Taproom.

I started off nice and easy like everybody else. Then somehow, through my own stupidity, I ended running behind the really fast guy who was trying to get in a short work out. Needless to say, that didn't last long. I found someone else who was running about my pace (Eric) and we jogged down to the bar. When I got there I felt surprisingly good.

After a few beers (That is the secondary--or primary, depending on who you ask--purpose of the club), I felt even better! That was when club president Dave asked me a question.

Dave: Do you need a ride back?

Stupid, moronic, hubris-filled, idiot Javier: No thanks. Is there anybody who wants to jog back with me?

I never left the house yesterday, and I'm still sore today. Let's see how I do next week.


As I write this post, I am entering my second month of unemployment. I had been at my last job for 10 years when I was unceremoniously let go. Of course I was not alone last month; I was one of 533,000 who have joined the now 10.3 million unemployed. The picture looks quite dismal.

The horrible thing is that the unemployment picture is actually much worse that the above picture would lead you to believe. You see, unemployment figures only measure the number of people who file unemployment claims with the government. A more sobering metric is percent employment: in other words, # people employed/population. Granted, this includes (as far as I know) children and retirees, but it also includes the multitudes who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits, or never qualified because they were employed part time, or have just given up looking for work. I know people in those categories.

Below is a chart (which I shamelessly stole from Paul Krugman) showing the trend of percent employment over the last 10 years.

What I'm seeing above is an honest representation of what the Bush XLIII presidency has done to the American worker. Bush has been a complete failure and his riddance is beyond good. But I'm not a veritable pessimist and I do have a great deal of hope for the future.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Cephalopod: Octu Vishnu

I hope Greg Laden doesn't think that he's the only one who can muscle in on PZ's territory.

Octu Vishnu from the 2008 Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Louis CK is great!

I've been a fan of Louis CK for quite a while now. But I was just reminded of him by this latest post by Phil Plait. (I highly suggest that you watch the Conan interview on Phil's post!) Anyway, the video below (I can't remember if I posted it before) is the reason that I first became a Louis CK fan. Anyone who can make me laugh so hard that I cry, just by making fun of the Catholic Church (Dave Allen, RIP), is a genius in my book.

I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by The Darwin Report. Here are the rules of the tag game:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Geez Louise!!! OK, I've faithfully completed the first two assignments, let's see how well I do on the others.

6 arbitrary facts about myself:

1. Wait a minute! Wasn't I supposed to post 6 random facts about myself? Indeed! Arbitrary fact #1 is that I hate it when people use the word random when what they really mean is arbitrary. Clearly, if I'm picking the 6 facts, then they're arbitrary. The only way that they could be considered random would be if you defined random to mean unrelated. But that flies in the face of most common usages of the word. (It might also work if I picked the facts out of a hat, but then which facts to put into the hat was still an arbitrary decision. So I guess in that case, the facts would be both random and arbitrary.) These facts are just arbitrary. I guess that means that technically, I broke one of the rules. (It won't be the last one I break.)

2. I sleep with a pillow between my legs.

3. I make my own wine. I make it from kits, so no growing or crushing of grapes, but who knows what the future will hold.

4. My grandfather's name was Darwin. My great-grandfather was Irish Catholic, and my great-grandmother was Protestant. Back during the turn of the century (not this latest one, but the one before) this kind of mixed marriage was frowned upon and my great-grandparents were quickly disowned by their respective families. They became Unitarians and named their son Darwin. I'm guessing that part of the motivation for the latter had to do with my grandfather being born in 1909. Anyone following the festivities planned for 2009 will recognize the significance of that date. This certainly wasn't lost on my great-grandmother who was a big fan of science and nature and history (or at least I'm told so).

5. My nephew is named Darwin. OK, so he hasn't been born yet and Darwin is his middle name. (His first name is Rafael--also a family name: from my father's side. Or maybe my sister named him after a turtle.)

As a math buff, I would so love the beautiful numerical symmetry of young RADAR being born in 2009. However he is due before then, and I certainly don't wish an extra half month of pregnancy on my sister for the sake of symmetry. Or dooo I?

6. This evening, after a really nice lecture by Janet Browne, I was stood up by PZ Myers! After promising to show up for Drinking Skeptically, he decided to ditch us instead. In all fairness, he did warn me that he would be late, but the word late implies actually showing up! PZ did no such thing! Can you even begin to imagine my shame? Several people at DS asked "Do you think that PZ Myers will show?" I assured them all that since I had just spoken with him and he said he would be running late, that indeed he was going to show up. What a fool I was! Fool me once, call me a ... er... won't get fooled again. ;-)

Back to the instructions: Consider #'s 5 & 6 to be done. That leaves #4 (Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.) to resolve. Once again, I'm going to break the rules. I had several people in mind (including a fellow whose surname is spelled just like the al Quaida kingpin, but he's surely busy counting votes), have decided to tag only one other. I tag PZed Myers!! It is well known that he has an unhealthy obsession with spineless creatures, but will he pay his penance and not be spineless himself? How dare he skip out on our skeptical night!! We had great conversations about physics, philosophy and Religulous, all of which you missed out on.

PZed! You (at the very least) owe us a "6 facts" tag post! Get on it!!!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fail for the Win!

This video is predictable, but hilarious!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008



In the meantime, here's a little Randy Newman-esque song from the Code Monkey dancer.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Life of a Pumpkin

Sorry for the late posting, but please consider this a revival of my old Friday Madness series.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Devil In Dover

What does it mean to be objective? The current meme seems to be that objective means "unbiased" and balanced. The trouble is that no human thought is unbiased, and balanced coverage isn't always (or even usually) truthful. I firmly believe that it's important to get every side of a debate before making an informed decision, but He Said, She Said coverage makes opposite positions seem equal when most often there is quite a disparity. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks likes to say that if sports reporters acted like the mainstream media, then every game would be a tie or a nail-biter--even when it was a clear blow-out! And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman famously said "If Bush said the Earth was flat, the mainstream media would have stories with the headline: 'Shape of Earth - Views Differ.' Then they'd quote some Democrats saying that it was round."

The above examples may seem like blatant hyperbole, but any informed reader who's familiar with the mainstream media's science coverage will recognize that they're not that far off. Science deals with verifiable facts. From a scientific perspective, "balance" means that every competing hypothesis (theoretically) gets the same chance to methodically test it's claims. But claims that fail the test don't get to sit at the same table as those that are tried and true. It would be nice if journalism worked the same way. But wait, it's supposed to. Here's a quote from an essay by the Committee Of Concerned Journalists that spells it out perfectly.

Perhaps because the discipline of verification is so personal and so haphazardly communicated, it is also part of one of the great confusions of journalism- the concept of objectivity. The original meaning of this idea is now thoroughly misunderstood, and by and large lost.

When the concept originally evolved, it was not meant to imply that journalists were free of bias. Quite the contrary. The term began to appear as part of journalism after the turn of the century, particularly in the 1920s, out of a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information- a transparent approach to evidence- precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.

This is quite different from the "balanced" approach that dominates the media today. This can clearly be seen in how the Intelligent Design "controversy" was covered. This attempt to be balanced and unbiased led to charlatans and prevaricators being given a stage that they neither earned nor deserved. One of the shining lights of truly objective journalism during the whole debacle was Lauri Lebo. Her newest book The Devil In Dover, details her account as a reporter covering the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in central Pennsylvania over teaching Intelligent Design.

Lauri tells the tale of the trial from when the idea of teaching Creationism was first floated to the aftermath. The reader gets to meet all the defendants and admire them for their courage. You get to see the lawyers from the ACLU, NCSE, and Pepper-Hamilton plan their tactics and strategy for the trial. You get to really see the contrast between Brown Biology professor (and author of textbook Biology) and defense witness, Lehigh University biology professor (and author of the critically panned Darwin's Black Box).

This was exciting for me since I was one of those who followed the trial as it unfolded. Reading this book was like reliving the trial, but being there. What I really found to be new was that I also got to "meet" the plaintiffs. As a local, Lauri Lebo actually knew Bill Buckingham (who attended the same church as her born-again father) and other school board members. These were basically good people who were willing to lie to advance their agenda. I know, it sounds like an inherent contradiction, but when saving souls is more important than not bearing false witness (or just about any other virtue), than anything pretty much goes. I can't say that I particularly like any of those board members more since reading The Devil In Dover, but I do feel that I've been given a window (or at least a peephole) into their motives. I'm sure that I wouldn't much care for any of those characters (or even Dean Lebo) if I ever met them had I not been given that window. The defendant's lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center didn't come off quite as sympathetically. But that might just be that Lauri never quite got to know them as well--or maybe they were that much slimier.

But make no mistake, the heroes of the book are most certainly the parents, teachers and lawyers on the plaintiff's side. They stood up to ignorance and won! Here's a couple of paragraphs from the end of the book that talk about the atmosphere in Dover science classes after the trial.

Rob Eshbach sat with students in quiet classrooms after school, speaking of balancing science with his faith. Jen Miller inspired students to gaze down long hallways and into our past. But these children of pastors always taught evolution with trepidation, afraid of offending creationist beliefs. This year, that's changed. Miler has revamped the biology curriculum. The teaching of evolutionary theory will no longer be crammed into a handful of days out of the school year. Now teachers start with evolution—because everything in biology builds from the theory.

Bryan Rehm says Dover high school is now the safest place in the country to teach science. Attacks on evolution continue in other classrooms, in other places, quietly, out of sight of newspaper reporters and public scrutiny. But not in Dover. Too many people are now watching.

This is exactly right because as Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." The fact that most high schools in this country still teach evolution as an afterthought or just a minor aspect of biology is criminal. Even more criminal (as stated in the second paragraph from the above quote) is that attacks on evolution are still widespread. Why can't it be "safe to teach science" everywhere?

Verdict: Buy the book!

UPDATED: Video of Lauri Lebo talking to the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sing like a pirate!

In honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day, I bring you the latest spiffworld video.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who's kingdom?

I was browsing through The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks today when I saw yesterday's post. Haha! It just speaks for itself.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Moon transit shot from EPOXI spacecraft

EPOXI's Spacecraft Observes the Earth-Moon System

Videos of the Moon transiting the Earth, as imaged by NASA's EPOXI spacecraft, were made from the still images collected when EPOXI's spacecraft imaged the Earth-Moon system on 28-29 May 2008. When the images were acquired, the spacecraft was just outside the orbit of the Earth and ahead of Earth by 31 million miles, 1/3 AU, making it as far from Earth as Mercury is from the Sun.

(via APOD)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Enfeebled Fables

Once upon a time a hare saw a tortoise walking slowly along and began to laugh and mock him. The tortoise challenged the hare to a race and the hare, thinking himself the fastest animal around, accepted. They agreed on a route and started off the race. The hare shot ahead and ran briskly for some time. Then seeing that he was far ahead of the tortoise, he thought he'd sit under a tree for some time and relax before continuing the race.

He sat under the tree and soon fell asleep. The tortoise, plodding on, overtook him and closed in on the end of the race. The hare woke up and realized that he had been passed. He dashed off as fast as he could towards the finish line only to reach his goal together with the tortoise. Unsure of who had won, the hare looked up at the officials' table.

Both competitors were promptly presented with identical, generic, appreciation medals. The head race official then announced "Today there are no losers. Everyone is a winner and we were able to raise money for a great cause."

What is wrong with the above story? Let me tell you: it has no teeth! Fables, parables, and fairy tales are supposed to teach moral lessons about life. However, when you change the story around to make it more pleasant or to give it a happy ending, you often remove the part that contained the vital lesson. What are you left with then? Can we say that the above story even has a moral anymore? I would say no. The appropriate response to the above story is to ask "So what's the point?" The Moral of the original fable has been stolen.

Speaking of the Moral of the original fable, I need to briefly digress so that I may rant a bit on a related topic. What is the Moral of the original fable? You've probably been taught, just like every-frickin-body else, that it's "Slow and steady wins the race."

That may be the stated Moral of the story, but it's certainly NOT the actual Moral! That's not what the original fable taught us. Let's be clear here, slow and steady does not win the race. Fast and steady wins the race. Smart and steady wins the race. (Or, in bicycle racing, positioning oneself well for the final sprint wins the race.) The tortoise didn't win by racing slow and steady; he won because the hare screwed up! If the hare races a smart race, he wins EVERY time!

The stated Moral for the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is simply wrong. The actual Moral of the story is "Hubris loses the race." I'm amazed that more people don't see that.

Now that I've got that out of the way, it's time to return to our regularly scheduled rant. You see, what I just did above to the Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare (to make my point) has actually been done (and successfully) to other famous stories. What you end up with is a pointless, feel-good story that bears an eerie resemblance to a story that actually had a message. I consider this a sin because it's a dumbing down of the narrative--albeit with good intentions--leading to less honed thinking skills for our children. Even if you disagree with the Moral of a particular story, dumbing it down is not the answer. You could, for example, rewrite the story so that the Moral reflects more contemporary values. But don't eviscerate it! You can also just read the story as is then discuss with the child what they think about the Moral (kids can be pretty smart, you know). But when the Moral is pretty much removed from the story, or watered down to the point of being functionally dead, I must step up and object.

My next example is The Tale of The Three Little Pigs. I'm assuming all of you know the more familiar, Disney-fied version of the story. Below is a six minute video of me reading the original version. See if you can spot the differences (besides my creative use of food props) between it and the diluted version.

If you just watched the video, then surely you noticed the the first two little piggies got eaten by the big bad wolf. (This story also made it clear that the third little pig didn't only plan better than the other two, but he wasn't lazy or gluttonous like them either.) Some of you may think that that's a bit rough for kids, but the Moral here is lucidly explicit--unlike the familiar version. What is the Moral of the tale's modern incarnation? "Make sure you work hard and plan well, but if you don't, don't worry because everything will work out in the end."?? Huh???

It's a sin I tell you! A sin!!

I might not be so bothered by a pointless children's story if it wasn't for the fact that it has supplanted its ancestor that actually had a real message (for what it's worth).

Anyway, I'll leave you on an upbeat note (that was meant to be taken musically, not figuratively). I've always liked The Devil Went Down To Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band. It's a catchy, danceable song that's hard not to like. The lyrics, however, are a complete corruption of the FAUST legend. See if you can figure out how (IMO) they disemboweled that classic storyline of its Moral. (hint: Accepting the golden gift is the DEFINITION of "selling out".)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

AbFab in real life?

A plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Germany after two British women tried to open a cabin door mid-flight. Am I the only one who immediately thought of AbFab when I read that article? If you're not convinced yet, here's more:

The XL Airways plane was flying from the Greek island of Kos to Manchester when Wednesday's incident happened.

An airline spokeswoman said the women were thought to have been smoking in the plane's toilet, and were suspected of bringing their own alcohol on board.

She said they had started to swear at and threaten staff who refused to sell them any more alcohol from the bar.

The women had then said they wanted to open the door to get "some fresh air" into the plane.

We won't tolerate this sort of behaviour XL Airways spokeswoman.

"Their language was totally unacceptable, as was their behaviour. They were very abusive and threatening," the spokeswoman said.

I'm thinking Eddy and Pats have come to life.

Oh, and just in case you're not familiar with the show, check out the clip below. :-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Should mileage units be gallons per 1000 miles?

Mileage is generally reported in miles per gallon (or kilometers per litre for the rest of the world). This seems to make sense. The consumer will want to know how far they will be able to get with the gasoline (petrol or paraffin for you non-Americans) they buy. Well, not exactly.

That might be a good metric if you have a fixed fuel budget and your travel plans followed from this. But most people buying automobiles aren't in that position. Most car shoppers have a certain amount of driving they need to do and are looking to keep their expenditures down. It should therefore make more sense to report mileage as the reciprocal (like gallons per 1000 miles for example).

While the two are mathematically equivalent, reciprocals scale differently. Most people will make bad decisions with the opposite ratio. Check out the video below for an explanation.

There are many examples of things like this all over. Let's take sunscreens for example. The SPF rating represents the equivalent protected exposure to UV rays in minutes to 1 minute exposure without the sunscreen. For example, 15 minutes of exposure to the sun while wearing SPF15 sunscreen gives you the same UV exposure as 1 minute unprotected.

But how much UV radiation is actually blocked? That can be calculated using the formula (1 - 1/SPF) * 100%
SPF5 blocks 80% of UV radiation.
SPF15 blocks 93% of UV radiation.
SPF45 blocks 98% of UV radiation.
SPF100 blocks 99% of UV radiation.

While something with a very high SPF rating may seem very impressive, I think anything higher than SPF15 is a waste.

And of course the way mileage is reported should be changed.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

2008 Anti-Superstition Party this Friday 13th!

Next Friday, June 13th is the Freethought Society of Philadelphia's 2008 Anti-Superstition party. For those who've been reading this blog for a while (back when I actually used to write more) may remember my visit to the 2006 Anti-Superstion party. It is likely that I will be the Lucky Leprechaun once again. ;-)

This year's party looks to be a lot of fun. It will be held at the Radisson-Warwick Plaza Hotel and the guest of honor will be none other than "The Amazing" James Randi. So if you can't make it out to Las Vegas for TAM6 and you'll be near Phily on the 13th, you might want to consider stopping by.

You'll also get to meet Dr. Stephen Uhl, former priest-turned-psychologist. How can you miss that???

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Welcome May!

Sorry if the clapping is a bit loud; I recorded this from the crowd.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

APOD fractal

Is it just me, or does today's Astronomy Picture Of the Day (APOD)

remind you of a famous fractal named Julia?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Zimmer interviews Gary Marcus

NYU Psychology professor Gary Marcus has just released his latest book Kluge about how the human brain is the product of tinkering. It is really one of the best refutations of the argument from design. Here he is interviewed by Carl Zimmer.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Charleton Heston dead at 84

Charleton Heston has died at the ripe old age of 84. In honor of him, I have found this video somebody made using clips from a classic Heston movie and the soundtrack from The Simpsons send-up on it. Yes, I realize that Dr. Zaius was not Heston's character, but it just seems so strangely appropriate.

Friday, April 04, 2008

JoCo in Philadelphia

(Poster by Len)

Last Wednesday (April 2nd), Jonathan Coulton played a concert in Philadelphia for the very first time. Or perhaps I should say that he played a concert in Philadelphia proper for the very first time. He was joined once again by Paul and Storm for a show at the World Cafe Live. This a larger venue than the last few times I saw him. Jen hooked me up with a ticket (her ticket--she couldn't make it--thanks Jen!) at a table near the front and center with some friends Caroline, Arthur, Jeanne, Kathy that was absolutely fantastic. This may be the best show I've been to yet. Unlike past shows where I brought props related to JoCo songs, I decided to honor Paul and Storm at this show: I brought panties (you'll have to check out the video to see what I'm talking about.)

Speaking of Paul and Storm, they played (with full cathedral echo) their very fun song Nun Fight. I'm sorry that I wasn't recording at the time.

But I was able to get some footage of the concert. Below is the playlist of the songs I recorded. It's not the complete set they played, but it's a decent chunk of it.
  1. Opening Band
  2. Watch the panties fly.

  3. Nugget Man
  4. An homage to a great inventor indeed.

  5. IDEAL jingle
  6. If you're not a 30+er from the Philly area, you won't get this one.

  7. The Future Soon
  8. Hey popular girls! Remember to treat the nerds nicely or this is what they'll do to you.

  9. I'm Your Moon
  10. Love song to Pluto from its moon Charon.

  11. Flickr
  12. This is the first time I've heard this song with the proper accompanying video. It's AOK!

  13. Code Monkey
  14. Needs no introduction.

  15. Soft Rocked By Me
  16. Jonathan sings about what it's like to be a total pussy.

  17. Creepy Doll
  18. Paul and Storm really rock on the back up during this song.

  19. I Feel Fantastic
  20. The song is fantastic.

  21. Mr. Fancy Pants
  22. Watch a grown man have fun with a $1000+ toy.

  23. Dance Soterios Johnson, Dance (partial)
  24. Unfortunately, due to my camera running out of memory and an emergency refill, I was only able to get the last verse. Luckily (for JoCo), what was lost was mostly screw-ups since this song was a special request that he hadn't rehearsed or played in like forever. Still, I felt that the performance was important enough that it needed to be posted anyway.

  25. Still Alive
  26. I added some "TRON" FX to this song written for the video game Portal. JoCo couldn't help laughing during the song because most of the audience members were holding up their cell phones (lit up). I guess cell phones are the "lighters" of the twenty first century.

  27. Skullcrusher Mountain
  28. What's with all the screaming?

  29. Re: Your Brains
  30. Even someone like me who couldn't sing to save his life can be a zombie for this audience sing-along.

  31. First Of May
  32. The JoCo classic about the coming of Spring (adult themes).

  33. Sweet Caroline
  34. Since I recorded this from the audience, I must apologize for the loud, off-key singing from the crowd. Oh wait, that was me ...
    (Note to self: sign up for singing lessons)

Here's the video (total playing time 58:52) Enjoy!

UPDATE: The Voice of Free Planet X has a podcast with some highlights from the show as well as interviews.

UPDATE #2: The three panties from our table have made it to The Gallery Of Thrown Panties.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is the Vogue cover racist?

If you haven't already heard, there's a bit of a controversy brewing over the latest cover of Vogue with LeBron James and Giselle Bundchen on it. Take a look for yourself.

The speculation is that the cover is invoking King Kong and therefore suggesting that LeBron James--and hence the black man--is a big brutish gorilla.

Clearly the resemblance is haunting. Almost too much to be explained away by mere coincidence. However, King Kong isn't the only cultural icon to employ the Gorilla kidnapping helpless beauty meme. For example, this Emmanuel Frémiet sculpture is obviously not King Kong.

So there are two other possibilities for the cover (I will go ahead and dismiss the explanation that the concept was completely original and the gorilla reference is just imagined by us). One is that the Vogue cover didn't copy the King Kong poster but was invoking the gorilla reference, and the the other is that the cover copied some other gorilla artwork. Given the fact that the Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz has a history of 'artful borrowing', I think it's safe to say that the cover was in fact a copy of either the King Kong poster or something else.

For years a certain photographer has been calling us up to complain about Annie Leibovitz' penchant for recreating famous photographs and passing them off as original compositions. We usually chalked up the accusations to jealousy, and thought nothing more.

Now comes new evidence that our original source was right. Women's Wear Daily reported last week on the Vanity Fair photographer's "artful borrowing." WWD reporter Jeff Bercovici wrote that "a spokeswoman for the magazine acknowledged Wednesday that the cover photo of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Al Gore, shot by Annie Leibovitz, was 'inspired' by 'Ballet Society,' a 1948 portrait by Irving Penn of George Balanchine and three collaborators."

This seems to confirm that the Vogue cover is a copy. The question now becomes "Is it a copy of the King Kong poster?" While the resemblance is eerie, there seem to be too many inconsistencies for someone of Leibovitz' talent. So it shouldn't have been a big surprise when an old WWI recruiting poster surfaced.

If you compare that poster to the Vogue cover, it should be patently obvious where the inspiration came from. This leaves us with several questions.

Is the cover a copy of the "Mad Brute" WWI poster?
I think that clearly it is.

Is it racist?
Here I'm not too sure. In the original poster, the gorilla represents Germany in general, and Kaiser Wilhelm in particular (and you can't get much whiter than that). But that only raises the question of why compare LeBron James to the German war machine? It could just be that the mad brutes represent professional jocks. But would Leibovitz and Vogue have made a similar cover with a white athlete like Tom Brady? I'm guessing probably not, but I can see such a layout actually working (and without the surrounding controversy). Of course it doesn't help that the gorilla imagery always seems to involve a white girl. Perhaps a print of a gorilla kidnapping a young black beauty would remove the racial connotation. But a photographer who likes to copy classic artwork is an unlikely candidate to set that precedent.

But what really jumped out at me about this whole affair was that the old WWI poster (as well as the Frémiet sculpture) depicted a bare breasted woman. Such an image would be considered indecent today. As I've talked about before, one of the great sins of the religification of American society has been the demonization of the human body. News Flash: Female breasts aren't evil and seeing them won't psychologically mar children!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Star halfway across the Universe goes BOOM!

Have you ever seen a massive supernova in action. On March 19th, Pi-of-the-Sky did.

2008.03.19 "Pi of the Sky" telescope detected the brightest ever optical outburst from a distant universe. The explosion happened 7.5 billion light years from the Earth, halfway across the visible Universe. The telescope is only 71 mm in diameter.

Just in case you missed it, here's the movie.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Illinois: part of a balanced breakfast

It seems that pareidolia madness has struck Ebay once again. I guess I had become so accustomed to seeing such ridiculously stupid demand for nouveau religious relics such as the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich or the recent Jesus cheetoh, that I was actually a bit surprised to see a small bit of secular pareidolia fetch such a steep price. That's right, behold the Illinois Corn Flake which just sold for $1,350.00 on Ebay!

I admit, that rather pales in comparison to the $28,000.00 that the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich sold for. So maybe there is something to this religious devotion making people crazy spenders after all.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Albert!

Today is Albert Einstein's 129th birthday. It is also pi day. Therefore the two events are simultaneous. Or are they?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road Trip

Molly, who shot to internet geek semi-stardom with her uke covers of Jonathan Coulton's Tom Cruise Crazy and Mr. Fancy Pants (as well as the Britney Spears classic Toxic) has just released a new original song about astronaut gone mental case Lisa Nowak.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Food fight!

How many battles and ethnic dishes can you identify?

(via Radula)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

This is why I love The Onion!

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

In Allah We Trust

I've never been much of a crusader for the popular atheist causes of removing the Under God from the pledge of allegiance or the In God We Trust from the currency. I've always thought (and still do) that there are more important fights out there. It's not that I'm fond of the phrase Under God, but I see children pledging an oath of allegiance to a national symbol as a proto-fascist imposition that has no place in country supposedly founded upon the principle of personal liberty. Ron Rosenbaum put it quite well.
The pledge is a kind of forced confession of orthodoxy. No, not water-boarding, but coercion nonetheless. Especially for peer-group-pressured school kids. Even if they have the right to opt out. In past school-prayer cases, the court has resisted the idea that the state should be implicated in even the social coercion or propagation of religion.

Busybody school boards and bombastic anthem peddlers at ball games should let people find their way to allegiance in their own fashion rather than making "allegiance" an implement of state power used to extract oaths.

I say dump the entire pledge!

Now, In God We Trust never really offended me before. It was one of those things that I always just took for granted but didn't fret about because it didn't really impact my life. I might roll my eyes when I caught sight of it on a bill, but I wouldn't get upset.

Words themselves don't have any intrinsic offensiveness to them. It is when those words represent something that we find deeply repulsive--such as certain human behaviors--that the words take on their offensive character. And so it is that I have begun to find In God We Trust on my currency increasingly distasteful. The blame falls squarely on the fundamentalist offensive (did you like that double entendre?) to relabel the United States as a "Christian Nation." Many of these misinformed marionettes like to defend their claim with "It even says 'In God We Trust' on the money!" Never mind the sheer ludicrousness of that argument; I've come to realize that those four words serve no useful purpose other than as a rallying point for the fundagelical zombies. And so I'm beginning to agree with those people who already do find those words offensive.

Until recently, I had no concise way of conveying to a Christian why that would or even should be offensive to me. Then yesterday I read this post by VJACK that began thus:
How do you suppose American Christians would feel about using currency on which "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is the greatest) was printed?

Wow! That says it all. Without much hesitation, that line inspired Todd Sayre to create this little photoshoped beauty.

How would Christians feel if their money looked like that? Pretty offended would be my guess. Yet from my perspective, there's no difference: both statements are equally silly and neither belongs on legal tender. And yes, I am aware that the "God" from In God We Trust need not necessarily refer to the Christian God (try telling that to a fundamentalist), but as an atheist I find all gods to be as invalid as Allah is to Christians. So the analogy is a good one.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Science Debate 2008 update

Several prominent scientists and other public figures have come forward and started making videos endorsing the debate. You can find them here on YouTube.

Below is a small sampling:

Laurence Krause

Kevin Knobloch

Sheril Kirshenbaum

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Secret Lives of Cell Phones

What do you do with your old cell phones when you get new ones? Do you throw them away or recycle them? Do you know how to recycle them? Have you ever wondered what happens to recycled cell phones? Are all recyclers the same?

The answers to these questions and more thanks to INFORM.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The President of 9/11

In another case of life mimicking parody, The Onion has is re-advertizing this year-old article Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11.

"My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise," said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. "As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all."


"Let us all remember how we felt on that day, with the world watching our every move, waiting on our every word," said Giuliani, flanked by several firefighters, ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and Judith Nathan, his third wife. "With a campaign built on traditional 9/11 values, and with the help of every citizen who believes in the 9/11 dream, I want to make 9/11 great again."


After his downtown Manhattan announcement, Giuliani held an afternoon rally near the Pentagon. In the early evening, he flew to a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where he hosted a $5,000-a-plate fundraising dinner in a tent decorated with clouds of ash, streaming sheets of singed office paper, and small piles of authentic rubble from the World Trade Center site.

I guess as his campaign founders, he is pushing reality closer to the prescient parody, as can be seen here.

Finally I shall leave you with a television commercial I found thanks to my friend Troy from Comedy Jesus. Since I don't watch television, I have no idea whether this is a genuine advertisement or just more parody. I have to assume it's real because Troy wouldn't make fun of people like that (Check his website. He's Jesus! And after all, what would Jesus do?) ;-)