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That 'five quotes' meme has been going around, but I'm not really a big one for quotes, so instead... Three books that changed how I think. )
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Suggested by discussion at [livejournal.com profile] sclerotic_rings: Hallmark or whoever has ordained that each wedding anniversary comes with a specific gift theme. Most of us probably remember that 25th is silver and 50th is gold, but there are themes for every year up to 15 and every five years after that.

Frankly, most of these are pretty lame and look like they were just added in to pad the list. (For crying out loud, "Candy/Iron"?) And some of them are outdated; ivory has gone out of fashion. So I think it's time for a new list that's more appropriate to the geek of today.

For starters. )
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Have just finished a hardcore oxygenarian ascension on KoL. Which will probably mean very little to most of you, but it vouches for my bloody-mindedness... especially since I had no HC-permanent skills going into the run.

I was really hoping to finish it two days earlier, so I could start my new run on a Muscle day and reap the benefits of my Breathetastic! Premium Canned Air right away, but I couldn't quite manage it... I'd saved up my adventures and powered through the whole of the Airship, Castle, and Hole in the Sky the day before, getting from level 9 to 11 in the process (assisted by the Canadian Mind-Control Device). I started the second Muscle day with 59 adventures. Unfortunately, getting to the Naughty Sorceress required three items I didn't yet have - a ruby 'W', a digital key, and sonar-in-a-biscuit - and the RNG was spiteful; even rearranging my equipment for maximum item drops didn't do much good. I managed to get the key and the sonar-in-a-biscuit, but ran out of adventures yesterday still hunting for the 'W'. Managed to pick it up today, though, and walloped the Naughty Sorceress with the aid of my trusty cocoabo, Lindt, while wearing the Furry Suit.

...I really am a sad, sad geek :-)

(I donated for the server and got myself a Wild Hare, which is quite a neat familiar and saw me through much of the run. I named it 'Gothbunny', but since it now weighs 20 pounds I've renamed it to 'LonGears'.)

(And yes, all that stuff really is in the game. At the end of this coming run I should have all the pieces to build myself a Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot familiar, which should be exceedingly useful...)

For Sithen

Apr. 4th, 2006 10:25 am
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Via [livejournal.com profile] kajafoglio, this sculpture is pretty cute. And it doesn't involve Britney in any way, shape, or form!

Edit: And via [livejournal.com profile] djfiggy: Nina von Stauffenberg died the other day, 62 years after her husband Claus von Stauffenberg was executed for attempting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. When I was a child, WWII always seemed like ancient history; it's odd to think that there are people still alive today who were part of that time.
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I was entertained to see that Amazon now has 45 reviews for the Rand Corporation's A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates.

"However, we should all be concerned about the fact that these particular number sequences are now all "copyrighted material". Rand has taken all the really excellent random sequences for themselves!"

"I am still trying to figure out what to do with these Gaussian deviates. I may try to sell them on e-bay."

"First spongebob, now this - the sinister homo-erotic subtexts will do nothing but corrupt the youth."

"To summarize my thoughts on this book, a quote from my six year old daughter fits best: "Daddy, I didn't like it. The results in this [book] do not tell us anything about transposed digits or other self-canceling errors." She was nearly in tears."

"The book is a promising reference concept, but the execution is somewhat sloppy. Whatever algorithm they used was not fully tested. The bulk of each page seems random enough. However at the lower left and lower right of alternate pages, the number is found to increment directly."

"...these random digits are just too old fashioned. I get a feel for the 40s and what life might have been like, but I felt it lacked that "fundamental truth" that would allow this book to span generations to come. In todays world of global communications, econmic uncertainty, terrorism and preemptive wars, I think we all could have used a few negative numbers to really drive the point home. I mean even a few more zeros would have helped."

"If you liked Finnegan's Wake, you'll love this."
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A late V-day present for all the scientists out there: seventh-graders' impressions of scientists before and after a visit to Fermilab :-) I think the drawings tell the same story as the text, but more clearly.
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Miranda Devine's latest column discusses the issue of whether men should be involved in the current debate over the Health Minister's drug-approval powers*. For the record, I agree with her that they should be and disagree with her conclusion on those powers, but that's not the bit that annoyed me. This was:

In any case, there is no single female view on abortion. Opinion polls show views on the issue are not split on gender lines. And, despite the hype about a gender divide in the Senate last week, about the same number of men (21) and women (24) voted in favour of removing Abbott's authority.

Before clicking, see if you can spot the logical flaw. )

*Quick background for non-Australians: the question is whether approval for abortion drugs should be in the hands of the Health Minister, who is an elected representative but not a medical professional, or the Therapeutic Goods Administration, an unelected body of medical professionals that handles all other pharmaceutical approval. The TGA is more likely to approve RU-486 than the current Health Minister, so the vote to remove that authority from the Health Minister is widely seen as a pro-abortion decision.

Me, I think "on moral grounds, should abortion be legal in this country?" is a question for our elected representatives. But "while abortion is legal, should this one specific drug be allowed?" is more a medical decision than a moral one, and should be handled by medical professionals. This vote is on the latter question, not the former.
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(X-posted to [livejournal.com profile] sceptics)

This is one of those urban myths that just WILL NOT DIE. Every couple of years somebody claims that old windows are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-flowing liquid, somebody demolishes it, and a couple of years later it rears its head again. But it's an interesting subject none the less, because the reasons *why* it's so hard to dispel touch on several different aspects of science.

I was originally going to call this 'Glass Is Not A Liquid', but that was a little harder to defend; over very large timescales the distinction between liquid and solid becomes less clear, as discussed below. But I'm happy to assert that for practical purposes, glass is as 'solid' as many other things we have no hesitation in calling solid.

States of matter, viscosity, amorphous solids, confirmation bias, and creep. )

Challenger

Feb. 1st, 2006 10:56 am
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The Challenger disaster happened during the night, my time; I heard about it early the next morning from my mother, who'd probably heard it on the morning news. I think it might be the first time I can remember her looking shocked. It wasn't quite as awful a disaster to us in Australia as it was in the US - we didn't have the same buildup and coverage - but it was more than bad enough, and I don't think we talked about much else at school that day.

That was the sad part. But the tragic part is that Challenger's crew weren't killed by bad luck. They were killed by the same things that have been screwing up engineering projects since the dawn of time, among which the chief culprit has to be 'wishful thinking by managers who don't understand the science involved'. If you want to do something meaningful in memory of those astronauts, rather than lighting a candle... go ye and read Richard Feynman's appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Challenger disaster, and learn the lessons therein. (Links via [livejournal.com profile] sclerotic_rings.) If nothing else sticks, remember the last line:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
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Today I convolved some data. For the uninitiated, this is pretty much the signals-processing equivalent of sex, only uncomplicated by other people.

Then later on, I deconvolved some other data. I'm not sure what this is the signals-processing equivalent of.

And yesterday I finished painting a figure I've spent ages on (Sir Stephen Swift, to those following the Aramia game; he makes an appearance in [livejournal.com profile] edward_dujean's imminent summary). I'm very pleased with how he came out. The face and eyes (always fiddly) turned out well, with very little effort on my part; the blacklining, shading & highlighting on his armour came up very nicely, and the basing isn't too shabby. I'm tempted to enter this fellow next time there's a novice contest; I can see one or two spots where he'll lose marks (I didn't entirely succeed in getting all the casting lines off, and my freehand on his shield is a bit wobbly), but I'd be interested in commentary on the rest of it. One of these days I will get a camera with a decent macro mode so I can bore you all with my miniatures in better focus.

Incidentally, it is entirely a coincidence that one of the major ethnic groups in my setting just happens to have the same rather dark skin that I've found easiest to paint ;-)
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On its own, this looks like it could be a cute snark on a common creationist line of argument, but from the original context the poster looks to have been in earnest:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

*facepalm*

Many other gems can be found here; no aspersions intended towards the many sensible Christians who have the misfortune of sharing a religion with these people.

Edit: And I'm not sure I'd agree that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is particularly 'basic'. It's a statistical/probabilistic law rather than an absolute law - that is, individual atoms can and do violate it for brief periods, but large numbers of atoms over a period of time will obey it. And the exact meaning of 'entropy' is rather difficult to grasp, something that trips up a lot of creationists - although this one seems to have avoided that particular pratfall in favour of a much bigger one.

Edit #2: It's amazing what you can prove by misinterpreting algebra and physics:

"Having assumed that people have a general knowledge of basic alebra. I shall attempt to prove God.

Well all know that the earth sits at a certian angle on its axis. How could this have been done with the big bang theroy?
Scientist have proven, if the earth was off its axis or not a the PERFECT angle we would burn up due to the suns position.
Proof?

We know that the earth rotates around the sun in a elipse form. (alerbra word)
For elipse to be an elispe it has to have TWO FOCI (man this is making my head hurt) Which makes sense with the gravational pull around the sun. However, what doesn't make since is there is only ONE foci being the sun. Yet the earth still revolves around the sun in elispe form. Explain that one. How can the earth due this with an exact elipse form without another foci?

God.

bascially, A= axis B= Balence G= God

A+b=G
simple enough?"
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The Twin Cities Creation Science Association offers a splendidly useful list of topics for kids entering science fairs. Some of the highlights:

The intro is a bit shaky: )

But the topics themselves are often hilarious:

- Make a computer model of the Flood currents.

- How much voltage or current can a human take before he is killed? Could do experiments on a plant.

- Make an experiment to show how Boyle's law applies to nebula.

- Trilobites prove Noah's flood because they are curled up or not?

- Is intelligence influenced by physical attributes. i.e. are blondes "dumb" or does skin color influence intelligence?
(One last time, folks: 'i.e.' = 'that is', 'e.g.' = 'for example'. DO NOT confuse them.}

- Can a dog run a maze faster than a gerbil?

- Could a person function without thumbs? or What would it be like to not have thumbs?

- Does sea currents affect climate?
Am me passed English Grammar 101?

- Is everything, including non-living things, made of cells?

- Why is blood blue in our veins but turns red when we are cut? If we are cut in a vacuum would the blood stay blue?
Isn't it heartwarming to know that the people who want to tell us how life on Earth came about don't know what colour the blood in their own veins is?

- Were all the animals friendly to man before the Flood? Idea: raise several baby animals like snake and mouse together to see if they remain friends as they are older.

- Why do only mammals have hair?
I'll answer that question when you show me the nipples on a red-kneed tarantula.

- Why do plants give us oxygen?
When's the last time a Triffid knocked on your door and said "hey, dude, I made you some oxygen!"

- What color is our brain?
This could be a really satisfying experiment, if brief.

- Why do cats always land on there feet when they fall? Do other animals do this?
Aside from the bad spelling, I don't like where this is headed...

- How do mice react after 24 hours of confinement? What about other animals?
For bonus points, how long can you keep them confined without access to a lawyer?

- What is God made of?

- How do we get headaches?
After reading this list, I've got a pretty good idea.

- Why did God make pests like bugs and mosquitoes?
Because without them, all His work on malaria, dengue fever, and sleeping sickness would've been wasted.

- Why do people believe in Evolution?

- What events caused them to become evolutionists?
I was abused by satanic D&D-playing paleontologists.

- Why do we have pimples? Did God goof?
Somehow, I'm guessing that there is a 'wrong answer' to this question.

- Why do cats hate dogs and dogs hate cats?
Trick question - cats aren't in the Bible!

(In fairness, the author does note that "these are the raw questions [from a kids' brainstorming session] as I have not had time to clean them up or rephrase them in a statement for a hypothesis", but since it's dated five years ago that excuse doesn't hold too much water.)

In related news, closing arguments from the plaintiffs' lawyer in the Dover case. Yay him.

And unrelated, when pranking gets out of hand.

Anansi Boys

Nov. 8th, 2005 08:06 am
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Finished reading it last night. A good read, but a little bit disappointing after American Gods; given that it's set in the same world, I was expecting this to be as intricate and carefully plotted, but it turned out to be much lighter than its predecessor. In particular, the ending felt a little bit rushed - it didn't have that magic "suddenly the faces become a vase if you look at them differently" feel that Gaiman so often achieves.

It indulges in a facetious style of humour that works very well for Adams and Pratchett, but sits oddly on Gaiman ("hung in the air exactly the way bricks don't" sort of thing). Maybe I'll get used to him doing that, but not just yet.

Also (only very mild spoilers), the book involves tales about Anansi - a West African trickster god - outwitting various other god-creatures long long ago. He makes it clear that the creature names are not to be taken too literally, but I still couldn't help responding to one such tale with "A tiger? In Africa?" and there were a couple of other moments where the internal logic didn't quite make sense.

Honestly, I think I'd have enjoyed it more had it come from another author. All in all, it has plenty of positives - as usual, the characters are interesting (in particular, it's nice to see a cop who actually has some common sense) and there are plenty of ideas in there. But Gaiman's name sets high expectations for me, and they weren't quite met this time. But there'll be a next time, I'm sure :-)
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Photos here, which may (or may not, see scepticism here) be light from the very first stars in the universe, some 13.5 billion years ago. Shiiiiny.

And Daily Kos has some rather entertaining (if convoluted) accounts of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, an ID-in-schools trial in PA. The plaintiffs' argument is that ID is creationism, creationism is religion, and teaching religion in science class is unconstitutional.

On investigation, it seems the head of the school's curriculum committee (William Buckingham) went to his church to solicit funds for a pro-ID book, got $850 in donations, and then rather than buying the books himself he gave the money to the school board president (Alan Bonsell), who passed it on to his father to buy the books.

Rather interesting transcript of Oct. 31's testimony can be found here.

Some of the good bits: )

I'm no lawyer, but I'm glad I'm not Mr. Buckingham at the moment. (What *is* the penalty for making a false deposition?) The judge doesn't seem to be terribly impressed by Bonsell's "misunderstandings" under oath, either.
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Also, a double helix scarf, a baby-friendly knitted DNA model, and knitted digestive system!

And zombies!

- pinched from Pharyngula.

Oh, and non-fabricy-coolness: wasps trained to sniff out odors.

And while I'm adding stuff, I want this book. Yes I do.
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[livejournal.com profile] silmaril asked a while back, and recent news reminded me of it, so: the Vaccination Rant. (Edit: Now with more LJ-cutting for your Friends page.)

There are two main angles to the vaccination/anti-vaccination debate: the scientific ("do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks?" - i.e. "should we get vaccinated?") and the civil-liberties ("given what we know about the science, should we compel others to be vaccinated?") (There's also a third angle, but I'll leave that till the end.)

I'm not in favour of making all vaccinations compulsory, but I believe there is a very strong argument for some vaccinations to be every bit as compulsory as, say, paying your taxes. When I talk about the "anti-vaccination movement" here, I'm not talking about every instance where people have opposed a specific vaccine; I'm talking about people who are categorically opposed to mandatory vaccination in all cases.

Part 1: the scientific angle )

Part 2: the ethical angle

But let's leave the science for a moment, and move onto ethics. We know vaccines have risks and benefits, and we know the ratio of these varies from one individual to another. Could compulsory vaccine be justifiable?

I went a-browsing through anti-vaccination sites and picked out several pertinent quotes, fairly typical of anti-vaccination material:

Spot the common mistake. )

Worked example: the Green Snuffles. )
Although RL epidemiology is more complicated than that simple model, the same principle holds. The argument "it's my kid, so it's my choice" is dishonest, and looking solely at the the benefits to your kid (supposing that there *are* benefits) is selfishness. It's not just freeloading, enjoying the benefit of other kids' vaccinations without offering the same benefit to others; you're actually increasing the risk to the same kids whose vaccinations are protecting *your* child.

Every parent wants their child to be happy and healthy, but that doesn't give them the right to achieve that at another kid's expense. Would you teach your kid to steal other kids' lunch money?

*****

Speaking of vaccinations, there are two new vaccines coming out for the Human Papilloma Virus. So far, it's looking pretty good: near-100% effectiveness against two major strains of a virus that infects half of all sexually-active women in the USA and appears to be behind 100% of cervical cancer cases - one of the major causes of death in women, particularly young women.

You'd think people would welcome this. )
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An excellent article on 'intelligent design' by James Curtsinger here, in the Minnesota Daily, gives me warm fuzzies:

Perhaps Dr. Behe publishes research papers that support intelligent design without using those terms. Searching PubMed for “Behe MJ” and sorting the results by date, you will find 11 publications since 1992, when the good professor converted to his new Ideology. Several are just letters to the editor.

The most recent (Behe and Snoke, 2004 and 2005) suggest that certain events in molecular evolution have low probability of occurrence.

This falls far short of the claim that a designer must have intervened, but what the heck, let’s put all 11 in the ID column.

Under these rather generous assumptions, ID’s leading light has produced fewer than a dozen peer-reviewed papers for the cause, none of which explicitly mentions ID. That number is substantially less than PubMed finds for “voodoo” (78), and pales in comparison with “diaper rash” (475).

Perhaps when the number of supporting publications rises to the level of “horse feces” (929) the professional community will grant ID some respect.


Curtsinger also slams Behe on the question of flagellae, one of his favourite examples of supposed 'irreducible complexity': "The old meaning of irreducible complexity was, “It doesn’t have any function when a part is removed.” Evidently, the new meaning of irreducible complexity is “It doesn’t have the same function when a part is removed.”" (Those familiar with the notion of IC will appreciate that this is not so much a matter of 'moving the goalposts' as 'holding the goalposts while backing off the edge of a cliff'.)

But in the interests of balance, [livejournal.com profile] sclerotic_rings points me at an experiment which, without hyperbole, provides as much evidence in favour of intelligent design as anything Behe's so far come up with.

And a meme because I'm still waking up. )
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The dream I had the night before [livejournal.com profile] jazzmasterson and [livejournal.com profile] harliquinn's wedding (and to avoid being guilty of false advertising, I didn't actually *see* any of the Thousand Forms): Just a short one. )

But two waking-world Brilliant Ideas I thought I'd share:

- Black tissues, for goths. That way, when you forget to empty your pockets before doing the laundry, at least the million-and-one shreds of tissue match your outfit!

- The Coffee Dart Gun. Equipped with a motion sensor, it detects when you get up and fires a caffeine-laden dart, thus resolving the catch-22 that arises when uncaffeinated people attempt to find and work the instruments of coffee. This one needs some work - the users might have to wear safety goggles until we can optimise the targeting - but I think there's real potential here :-)

Awwww!

Oct. 2nd, 2005 12:46 am
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Precious Maggots!

Speaking of which, saw Corpse Bride tonight with Buzzy & co. It was good fun, although it really felt more like a long short than a real movie. Nice to see a love-triangle where *both* the possible choices were people I'd actually want to be with. (I confess to a moment or two of "well, maybe he could just marry both of them", but there's probably a reason why it wouldn't work.)

We had Mexican beforehand, and Buzzy fired the paper wrapper off her drinking straw at me. (You tear off one end, pull the straw out just enough to fit the end in your mouth, and blow.) I fired mine just past her nose, just as the waiter came back... and he gave me another straw and encouraged me to take another shot. Later he came back with more straws for me. This is how you get a tip.

Before that, we went out to the San Diego Wild Animal sanctuary and sat there eating afternoon tea while watching the vultures circle. And saw male antelopes-of-some-description arguing with ownership of the herd while two of the females demonstrated that actually, they didn't really *need* the males. Then later, two male meercats got up to much the same... there really is a limit to how often one can say "it's all a social dominance thing" before it starts to lose a little of its convincingness.

Yesterday - this seems to be reverse-order blogging - we saw the King Tut exhibition, which was a little disappointing; not that they didn't have shiny stuff, but most of the actual King Tut bits were absent, replaced with filler from other people's tombs. They had his mace and a canopic jar, and a few minor bits, but no sarcophagus or anything like that.

Bedtime now, big day tomorrow - we're off to Hawaii!

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