12.31.2009

Dark Energy and Neutrinos - Coincidence?


Could neutrinos present at the Big Bang have kicked off dark energy? It's an interesting idea, but maybe it's just coincidence. From Discovery News,
The idea sprang from calculations showing that the density of dark energy is comparable to the value of neutrino mass, said lead researcher Jitesh Bhatt, with the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, India.
But what does "comparable" mean? Same order of magnitude? And how many neutrinos are there really? It's only been within the past decade or so that we solved our solar neutrino problem (in which the sun seemingly only produced 1/3 the number of neutrinos that theory predicted - turns out that neutrinos change their type as they travel, and we were only looking for one type at the time). Up until this time, one could have been forgiven to presume neutrinos massless. Yet here we are today saying the amount of dark energy is comparable to neutrino mass. Both are notoriously difficult to measure and, again, comparable may mean neutrino mass is half of the dark energy equivalent.
"It will take much more work before we can pin down the nature of dark energy," Bhatt said. "Without knowing the nature of the dark energy, our knowledge of theoretical physics would remain incomplete."
Indeed.

12.19.2009

Bertrand Russel on Skepticism

From Bertrand Russel's On the Value of Scepticism, the following is something to keep in mind when considering 'science by consensus':
The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this:
(1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain;
(2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and
(3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionize human life.
(h/t the quackometer)

12.18.2009

Why Randi, Why?



I have the utmost respect for James Randi. He has done the most of anyone on this planet to promote skepticism and fight the woo. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with him on a couple occasions and he left me with the impression of a man who chooses his words carefully, demanding precision in language. I think he believes that one must be exact in their arguments because the other side is often so inexact. In fact, their main tactic is to twist words and meanings creating purposeful misdirections to pull off their particular brand of magic.

Randi seems to have departed from this rigorous standard in his initial posting about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) on The Swift Blog. In AGW, Revisited, Randi created a storm of controversy among skeptics when he "turned his skeptical eye" to AGW. I think by now he is having regrets. Although he claims that this Global Warming is not his area of expertise and freely admits that he is only an amateur, even AGW amateurs like myself can see that he is still only on level 1. It became painfully obvious that Randi did not have enough experience to weigh in on this topic. While I understand not knowing the science, I don't understand how he could have so easily gotten in to trouble. After all, it is well known that AGW is contentious even among skeptics. He should have known that more in depth study was needed than what he evinced on his blog. He made several obvious mistakes that are understandable for an AGW amateur though not for a professional skeptic.

Thankfully, Randi responded to the criticisms a day later in his post I Am Not "Denying" Anything. His response seemed more geared towards the extremists who misinterpreted his earlier posting, or perhaps read something into it that wasn't there - namely that Randi denied global warming or AGW. He does well defending himself, though it doesn't take much to dispatch his most hardcore detractors. But this second post really doesn't do much more than this. Sure, he admits mistakes were made, and he reiterates that "the importance and impact of this phenomenon is well beyond my grasp", but he still makes himself available to AGW denialists (or 'skeptics' if you prefer):
As I've indicated, I do not deny the finding of GW. AGW, to me, is less clear, though I accept that it is likely true.
OK. Wait - what? It appears he's leaning towards AGW, but it also sounds like it wouldn't take much to switch his vote. To be or not to be an AGW proponent. That is the question. But it's one I wish Randi would have never answered. At least not at this point in time.

Here's a roundup of some of the more distinguished blogs commenting on this:

12.17.2009

Fun Science

Perfect for parties and sure to get you a date! Richard Wiseman presents fun tricks for the holidays:



(thanks Phil, always with the best posts!)

12.16.2009

Randi on Global Warming - Shockers!

James Randi is the world's most renown representative for skepticism. As such, his opinion is highly valued by skeptics from all corners of the globe. Recently, he posted AGW, Revisited - a short discourse on his doubting anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW). But he does it very carefully, noting several times that he is no expert, that he is an amateur in this area. He rightfully rejects 'science by consensus', but by doing so he leads one to believe that this is how we arrived at AGW - by consensus. It's not. It is an argument bandied about on the news as a way to convince others, but it has never been used in a scientific article as proof that AGW is occurring.

Randi argues that throughout the ages, throughout the many shifts in climate change, the biosphere has survived. This is a confusing point because no scientist argues otherwise. If AGW is occurring and we do nothing to stop it - even if we accelerate the effect - the biosphere will still survive. Whether man will or not is another question. Certainly, whole civilizations will change dramatically.

He writes
In my amateur opinion, more attention to disease control, better hygienic conditions for food production and clean water supplies, as well as controlling the filth that we breathe from fossil fuel use, are problems that should distract us from fretting about baking in Global Warming.
In other words, he is saying we have other things we should be worried about before getting to Global Warming. Of course, we are worried about those things. The spectre of Global Warming does not diminish our more immediate concerns. However, what's the point of stamping out a few small fires in your room as the house continues to burn?

I was disheartened to know Randi's stance on this issue, but I understand that it is a divisive one even among skeptics. Or perhaps, especially among skeptics. Skeptics have a particular drive to ignore ideology and focus on facts and data. That this particular community can be so divided illustrates how difficult the issues are surrounding Global Warming. For one, GW is not immediate. It occurs over hundreds of years. Also, high quality data does not exist. The past history of climate change has to be obtained via proxies - e.g. tree ring growth, ice core samples, effects on corals, etc. These are fraught with many variables and often times run counter to what the GW proponents theorize. Lastly, computer models do not still adequately address a variety of feedback mechanisms, not the least of which is low and high altitude cloud formation, which can have a significant effect on GW.


Yet with all these problems, the vast majority of scientists (aka the consensus) has discerned that GW is occurring and man is largely responsible. Does Randi think they are wrong? It certainly sounds like it. His opinion goes against the grain of science, yet he has shown in the past how scientists - especially scientists - are easily fooled by charlatans and tricksters who depend on deception and human fallibility. Nature, however, does not engage in premeditated tomfoolery. It does not actively seek to trick the scientist. It may hide its secrets very well and require the construction of a large hadron collider to tease them out, but it does not purposefully evade detection. So, I do not understand how Randi arrived at his conclusion. His post makes vague references and cannot stand alone as validation of his convictions. It merely states what he believes and alludes to 'common sense' as justification. As for myself, I don't buy it.

(first seen at Pharyngula)

Climate Scoreboard

12.14.2009

Evil Dead to be Rereleased

Bruce Campbell returns to the silver screen in the role that made him famous as Grindhouse pictures rereleases The Evil Dead in 2010.



Release dates are

– January 8-9: Uptown Theatre, Minneapolis
– January 15-16: Esquire Theatre, Denver
– January 29-30: Sunshine Cinema, New York
– February 5-6: Egyptian Theatre, Seattle
– February 19-20: River Oaks Theatre, Houston
– February 26-27: Inwood, Dallas
– March 5: Nuart Theatre, Los Angeles

Pure awesome. I see a trip to New York in my future...

(via Reelz Channel)

12.12.2009

14 Days in History

The following editorial was originally printed in the Guardian newspaper on December 7, 2009 and is freely reproducible under a creative commons license.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

Copenhagen climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'

This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages
Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

• How the Copenhagen global leader came about
• Write your own editorial
• The papers that carried the Copenhagen editorial
In pictures: How newspapers around the world ran the editorial

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.
Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.
The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

This editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons

12.11.2009

Mandating Religion In Schools?

In an effort that is destined to go nowhere, a woman in Redding, California is getting signatures on a ballot to mandate the singing of Christmas carols in public schools. Merry Hyatt, apparently unable to comprehend the concept of 'Separation of Church and State', is seeking to actively promote the expression of one religion in her local schools.

She is a recent transplant to Redding and quickly installed herself in the Redding Tea Party Patriots. Tea Party Patriots, as we all know, are really starting to feel their oats. They have a particular fundamentalist view of what America should be based on their interpretations of a mythical American history. Meryy Hyatt is no different.
Hyatt, a substitute teacher who moved to Redding from Riverside, said her motivation for the initiative was to help restore children's moral compasses by inviting Jesus to school Christmas parties.

"He's the prince of peace; he's the only one who can get these kids to stop being so violent," she said in November.

Hyatt said she believes it is Americans' First Amendment right to worship.
"It's our right to have freedom to worship," she said. "That's why we came to this country. They came to be Christians and they're trying to take that away. They're out of line; we're not." (link)
Once these efforts fail, I expect her next initiative will be to mandate circumcision.

(Update)
You can find the text of the initiative here (pdf warn).

12.05.2009

How Did Those People Get Into Heaven?

Sarah Trachtenberg brought up a good point I hadn't thought of before in a comment she left at The Hypatian Shore. Supposedly, Christ died for our sins. Even if you were born and led a godly life, you still were stuck with original sin. So, you can't get into heaven without worshiping Jesus as the one true Son. So, as Sarah pointed out, what happened to everyone who came before Christ? How the hell did they get into heaven?

And while we're on the subject, did everyone killed in the flood go to hell? You would think so - after all, God didn't seem to like them very much. Seems like there have been huge swaths of people denied entrance to the party.

I'm sure the Christians have a convoluted explanation involving the fall and original sin. But I'd like to here one that uses the analogy of God as bouncer and everyone else trying to pay the cover charge.

12.04.2009

T-bagga? What is Nordlinger Thinking?



Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor of National Review, addresses in his latest article Rise of an Epiphet the term "teabagger" and how conservatives should handle it. He gives both the colloquial definition as well as what conservatives intended it to mean when they adopted it last April 15. Of course, after the middle-aged gun-totin' white guys found out what it really means, they back-pedaled and attempted to shift to "tea partier" or "tea party patriot". However these don't quite roll off the tongue as easily as "tea bagger". Nordlinger senses the quandary and suggests conservatives simply take ownership of the term, eventually to change its definition. He offers "Yankee Doodle" as an example, offering that "doodle" "probably relates to the male organ". The colonials took over "Yankee Doodle" and they made it their own. Think "Yankee Doodle" and "American patriot" immediately comes to mind - not 'yankin' a doodle'!

Nordlinger also provides us with "scumbag" and "putzhead" as past examples that were used in political arenas, though not with their intended meaning (i.e. "used condom" and "penis head", respectively). Like "Yankee Doodle", these are no longer the vulgar pejoratives of old. Unlike "Yankee Doodle", they still are derogatory.

Nordlinger seems to have neglected simply googling "doodle" for he would have immediately found that it doesn't mean what he thinks it does. From the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology:
doodle simpleton XVII; larva of tiger-beetle (also doodle-bug, applied in 1944 to the ‘flying bomb’) XIX; aimless scrawl on paper XX. In the first sense — LG. dudel- in dudeltopf, -dopp simple fellow; the connection of the other senses is doubtful; the last is prob. rel. to dial. vb. doodle fritter time away.
and from Wikipedia,
As a term Doodle first appeared in the early seventeenth century,[4] and is thought to derive from the Low German dudel or dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton".
Nordlinger should take a lesson from Condrad's Heart of Darkness - venture too far into the jungle and you just might turn native.

Most delicious and ridiculous of all, Nordlinger goes so far as to suggest "teabagger" could be the new N-word:
What about a special case — the worst word in American English, as some of us see it, namely the N-word? When I was growing up, in Ann Arbor, Mich., there was a little debate: Should school officials try to prevent black students from using the N-word? I don’t believe the issue was ever settled. And this brings up the question of whether “teabagger” could be kind of a conservative N-word: to be used in the family, but radioactive outside the family.
Think of that for a moment. Teabagger = T-bagga? It's kind of catchy. You know, Michael Steele is trying to "urbanize" the GOP. And this idea is so crazy, it just might work!

Bring it, JayNord! All the T-bagga's in the house go HIP HOP HIPPITY HOP, HIP HIP HIPPITY HOP. The roof, the roof, the roof (of the socialist hospitable where grandma lies dying) is on fire! We don't need no water because it's all OBAMA'S fault! Can I get a what what?

No?

12.03.2009

P.Z. Myers on Geoffrey Simmons


One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from P.Z. Myers regarding Geoffrey Simmons. I had forgotten about it until recently, so I thought I'd record it here, just so I can come back and dust it off every now and then.
This is a man who thinks the fact that he isn't drooling and feces aren't dribbling down his leg is a miracle from god.
The original can be found here.

12.02.2009

Great STS-129 Shuttle Launch Highlights Video

I thought this was a very cool video. It captures the STS-129 mission launch from the many different cameras and a variety of angles. You can follow the solid rocket boosters from separation to splashdown. You can watch the ignition of the main engines and SRBs and follow liftoff from both fore and aft directions. It's a little long with the credits and I couldn't get sound...but who needs sound in space? Eh?


(h/t Nasawatch)

12.01.2009

1.18 TeV and counting



The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) set a new particle collision energy record at 1.18 TeV, surpassing Fermilab's Tevatron record of 0.98 TeV. And the LHC is just getting started! It is designed to ultimately accelerate beams of protons to 7 TeV. The beams run in opposite directions and head-on collisions occur when the beams are steered into each other, for a total collision energy of 14 TeV! That's 14 million million electron volts! That's a heady number and it's very difficult to grasp the enormity. But think of it this way: if every person on earth had just one electron volt, you would need 14 million million people! Crazy - I know.

Or, here's another way to imagine it. 1 TeV is about equal to the kinetic energy of 1 flying mosquito. So the LHC is like sending 7 mosquitoes one way and 7 t'other, and having them collide head-on in midair. Do it enough times, and one of the mosquitoes will poop out a god particle. At least that's what the physicists will be looking for. Like I said - crazy! I may crap a god particle just thinking about it.

11.23.2009

Darwin at the Throne

Besides introducing one of the greatest theories in history, Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species apparently makes for great bathroom reading.
A first edition of Charles Darwin's Origin Of Species, which was kept on a toilet bookshelf, is to be auctioned.
It is hoped the book, which was bought about 40 years ago in a West Country shop for a few shillings, will reach £60,000 in Tuesday's sale.
The book was kept on a bookcase in a guest lavatory at the owner's family home in Oxfordshire.(link)

11.18.2009

The True Meaning of Christmas

Forget about the Christmas tree, the colorful lights, the snowmen, stockings hung with care. Forget about Santa Claus, his reindeer, the north pole. Forget about Yule logs, Christmas caroling, fruitcake and gingerbread houses. These are the mere trappings of Christmas. They serve only to provide the mood. To set the ambient lighting. To fill the air with the incense of joy. But they don't represent the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is all about Jesus, and the more the better. Break it down: Christ + mas = more Christ. In particular, we celebrate Christmas by giving presents to each other. In the past, secular and religious organizations have both complained that Christmas has devolved to a marketing tool by the big retail corporations. But what they fail to understand is that the giving of presents is a special recognition of the greatest present of all: Jesus gave us the ultimate gift (i.e. his life) to wash away the sins of mankind with his blood. In the years that followed (though the evidence for this is shaky), the newly minted Christians celebrated this event by cutting and spilling their blood. It was the least they could do - until infection set in. The somewhat deadly practice (for its time) gave way to the ritual exchange of gifts. This practice had the advantage of not killing the celebrant while simultaneously jump starting capitalism (ultimately giving rise to the United States).

While cutting is now a dangerous practice among troubled teens, the vestiges of the original tradition can be seen in the gift wraps and the bows used to ornament Christmas presents. Traditional Christmas colors are red and green, which symbolizes both colors of blood (e.g. see Hemoglobin and Hemocyanin). A red bow is symbolic of a bloody rag.

The classic Norman Rockwellian version of Christmas has families coming together over the holidays to share in the human bondage of love and feast. Nevertheless, this tradition evolved from the early Christian families gathering together to shed blood in the presence of one another, to symbolically absolve one another of sin. Today, we conclude Christmas by exchanging gifts, as if saying one to the other, "I sacrifice a part of me for you, that I may forgive you and cleanse you of your past sins." Giving gifts, sacrificing a small part of yourself, naturally makes you feel better, much like Jesus must have felt ascending into heaven.

If all this sounds like a contrived explanation, I have taken my cue from the American Family Association, an organization that describes themselves as an association of American families. They seek to promote the biblical truth underlying the culture of American families and they have been waging a war against the war on Christmas by leading a boycott against retailers who fail to say the word "Christmas" loud enough in their seasonal promotions. Think The Gap and Old Navy. And Banana Republic. In the AFA's recent call to arms, they are explicit about what makes Christmas special:
Christmas is special because of Jesus. It's not just a "winter holiday." For millions of Americans the giving and receiving of gifts is in honor of the One who gave Himself.
So Christmas is not about Cola drinking Polar Bears, mistletoe, or chestnuts roasting in an open fire. It's about exchanging presents. It's about absolving sins through personal sacrifice by way of a $50 Macy's gift card. It's about capitalism and the absolution of sin. It's about more Jesus. This is the biblical truth according to the AFA.

(h/t Think Progress, AFA Misfires in the War on Christmas)

11.17.2009

Religion Going Down The Toilet

Are fundamentalist preachers getting crazier every day, or has it always been this way. Here, Pastor Steven L. Anderson shows us how he's a manly man doing manly things, like pissing standing up.



(via Pharyngula and Jesus' General)

11.16.2009

Saving Spirit


The Mars rover Spirit has been stuck in a sand trap since 1889. That would be Sol 1889...or 1,889  days on Mars. On that fateful day, Spirit had been limping along, driving backwards, dragging it's left front wheel which had seized up many Diemos's and Phobos's ago (i.e. many moons ago). The fine engineers at JPL have been working on a plan ever since to free Spirit. They've even come up with their own logo and website devoted to the task. Meanwhile, Spirit has been busy taking in the scenery, snapping some pix, and going through a bout or two of amnesia. But the day has finally arrived. For today, NASA will finally put their plan into action and start sending commands start Spirit moving again. They have several different possibilities to go with, and will be choosing the best action as they get results back from their previous efforts. Among the final, last-ditch effort attempts will be to use the Microscopic Imaging Arm to help push (or pull) its way out. But lets hope it doesn't come to that.



Good luck JPL, NASA, and Spirit.

Bill Maher Was Only Joking


Remember when Bill Maher tweeted "If u get a swine flue shot ur an idiot"? Turns out, he was only joking! For one, he said it on Twitter, so that should have clued you in. Moreover, he's a comedian, for gods' sake! Get it? A comedian who tweets? You didn't really think he was serious, did you? Never mind that he's been as outspoken as Jenny McCarthy against vaccinations and used his HBO show as a platform to rail against the evil pharmaceutical companies. When he tweets, don't take him seriously. At least, that's the excuse he's giving at The Huffington Post:
For example, I recently joined Twitter Nation -- what can I say, Demi Moore is a very convincing salesperson -- and what everybody told me about Twitter was that it was supposed to be whatever stray thought or thing just happened to you -- you know, for people who find blogging too formal and stuffy.

But apparently it's taken very seriously, because there was Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services what she thought about the fact that "Bill Maher told his viewers anyone who gets a flu shot is an idiot."

Well, not quite. It was twittered, which I guess doesn't make a huge difference, but as 60 Minutes is the last bastion of TV journalism, accuracy is appreciated. And I see that counts for Twitter, too -- my bad -- so yes, some people are not idiotic to get a flu shot. They're idiotic if they don't investigate the pros and cons of getting a flu shot. But, come on -- it was a twitter from a comedian, not a treatise in the New England Journal of Medicine, that's not what I do.
He continues on by saying that he's "representing an under-reported medical point of view" in this country. And there are so many of those, are there not? I look forward to the time Bill Maher corrects the under-reporting of homeopathy, phrenology, and aromatherapy. Or does Maher consider only his points of view to be under-reported? Bill Maher suggests that our problem is in not having a strong enough immune system in the first place, probably due to all the junk food we eat. As if eating enough spinach will make you strong enough to fight the H1N1 virus. I wonder what nutrition plan he would suggest to people with AIDS? Perhaps an all-natural vegetarian meal followed by an after dinner joint?

Maybe he's on to something. After all, he claims to know enough about vaccinations:
Michael Shermer wrote me an open letter and felt I needed to be told that "vaccinations work by tricking the body's immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given." Thanks, Doc, I thought there might be a little man inside the needle. Yes, I read Microbe Hunters when I was eight, I have a basic idea how vaccines work.
Yet if he really understood how vaccines work, he wouldn't have wrote the HuffPo article. When exposed to certain viruses, the immune system adapts and "learns" how to fight them so that when the virus returns years later, you don't get sick. Contrary to Maher's implications, no amount of farm fresh spinach or broccoli will teach your immune system how to fight off a virus. That's simply not the way it works. What Maher is really getting at is what the medical community has known about for decades: clean, healthy, stress-free living gives your immune system the ability to more effectively respond to viruses - to fight off those viral agents it already "knows" about, as well as to quickly learn and respond to those it doesn't know about. Of course, you'd much rather have an immune system with a large "memory" of viral agents for faster response. Which is what vaccinations are all about.

And if you think Maher is really trying to set himself apart from all the other anti-vaxxer whackos, think again:
In addition, my audience is bright, they wouldn't refuse a flu shot because they heard me talk about it, but if they looked into the subject a little more, how is that a bad thing? If they went to the CDC Web site and saw what's in the vaccine -- the formaldehyde, the insect repellent, the mercury -- shouldn't they at least get to have the information for themselves?
He is using the same scare tactics that the anti-vaxxers use. Formaldehyde, insect repellent, mercury, oh my! Go to the CDC website, says he. Just look at all the crap they put into a vaccine, says he. Then read further to find out what these ingredients are for, check out the low dose rates, and see what effect they have on the human body, says he. Or...wait. No, he didn't say that. Nothing but lions and tigers and bears for Bill Maher.
The problem with Bill Maher is not his musing about big pharma doing shady things to make a buck. That's a discussion worth having. After all, corporations respond to shareholders uber alles. No...Maher's problem is thinking he has science on his side. Like George W. Bush, he's thinking with his gut on this one.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't take him too seriously. Maybe he was only joking in his HuffPo article. He is a comedian after all.

11.07.2009

Concerning Bodies Floating in a River

An article in the NY Times from March 1882 reads thusly:
The Moniteur Scientifique Quesneville publishes these alleged statemens of a Parisian ravageur concerning human bodies floating in the river: "I always know beforehand if it is a man or a woman. If the body has the face upward, it is that of a woman; if it floats on its belly, with the nose in the water, it is that of a man. I have remarked that a man who has been thrown into the water after being assassinated reappears on the surface much earlier than one who has fallen in by accident or has drowned himself. The time the body remains beneath the water shows whether it is a case of suicide or of murder." These curious pieces of information are valuable in proportion to their truth, and they would appear to require verification.
I applaud the New York Times for their skepticism. "Valuable in proportion to their truth" is my new catch phrase when arguing with Intelligent Design proponents. Yet I feel a note to their editor of the Journal of Science and the Times is warranted with their uncritical reporting of Mr. Varley's latest invention:
"Mr. C. E. Varley, the eminent physicist, has patented an improved divining rod for ascertaining the presence of metallic veins underground."
I shall send a telegraph straight away.

11.06.2009

Best Jon Stewart Clip

For me, this was the funniest clip ever from Jon Stewart. It's called the 11/3 Project and is a dead-on parody of Glenn Beck. But not only is it extremely funny and accurate...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

...it has a Feynman diagram!

10.23.2009

The Endangered Yet Naughty Kakapo

The Kakapo (Owl Parrot) is a flightless parrot that wanders New Zealand. There are only 90 left in the world. They way this fellow reacts, it's not hard to see why. But despite his state of confusion, the real source of his demise is the introduction of other species by man over the past several hundred years.



It's a coincidence that I ran across this video over at The Intersection. I started out there reading Mooney's and Kirshenbaum's take on Jerry Coyne's review of their book, Unscientific America (which I have yet to read). This spat has been going on awhile. I'm also reading Jerry Coyne's book, Why Evolution is True (which I highly recommend). He devotes a chapter to biogeography, explaining the differences in the diversity of creatures between continents and islands, noting the difference between continental islands (i.e. those that broke away from larger continents millions of years ago), and Oceanic Islands (i.e. those that rose from the sea via vulcanism). He also devotes a chapter to vestigial traits. The Kakapo happens to be featured in both.

Long live the Kakapo.

10.21.2009

Bill Maher Denies Being A Nut

Bill Maher denies that he's a nut for opposing vaccines. Just go to the CDC website, he says. Look at all the chemicals in vaccines, he says. Aluminum. Mercury. Formaldehyde. OK. Bill Maher's not a nut - he's Jenny McCarthy!



(via Hot Air)

10.20.2009

Time Lapse of Ares X-I Assembly

NASA's Ares X-1 test rocket has been rolled out to launch pad 39-B at Kennedy Space Center in preparation for launch at 8 a.m. on October 27. While NASA's future is up in the air, it is still proceeding along its timeline for sending humans back to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars. Their orders are basically to continue until otherwise directed. The following is a really cool time lapse video of the Ares X-I being assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). As always, NASAWATCH will have the latest updates.

10.18.2009

Not a Jot of Evidence

Ben Goldacre has a good recap of the so-called evidence the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has provided in support of its suit against science writer Simon Singh. When Singh claimed in his now famous article that there was "not a jot of evidence" to support the claims made by the BCA, the BCA provided a list of 19 articles that supposedly backed them up. They do not and Ben Goldacre shows why here. Goldacre's last paragraph sums up the article:
There are huge, endless debates to be had on our libel laws, on the risks they pose to the public by stifling access to information, and on the changes that could be made. But, for today, know this: there is no good evidence that chiropractic is effective for the conditions claimed by the BCA....

10.16.2009

Malicious Characters

On October 14th, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) issued a press release in response to Simon Singh's being granted leave to appeal the libel suit brought against him by the BCA. Singh, they argue, has been claiming the issue is one of freedom of speech whereas they see it as a simple libel case when Singh claimed they promoted 'bogus' treatments. In the original article, Singh said
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
Obviously not happy with the latest ruling, the BCA said in their press release:
The BCA supports and would never seek to stifle legitimate open scientific debate. However, this action is actually a simple libel claim based on the fact that the BCA was maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh in the Guardian newspaper.(link - PDF)
In essence, the BCA has stated publicly that Singh's criticisms regarding the BCA were designed specifically with the intent to cause harm with no scientific or legal justification backing them up. That is, the BCA has said Simon Singh is a malicious character, from which we can imply that all his writings in the past and the future are not to be trusted because they may have been written with other goals in mind than simply to inform the public. Or in other words, Simon Singh is not a reputable character. I don't believe it, but their are some who may buy into it, and therefore Singh's reputation may have been damaged by the BCA. The excellent blog, Jack of Kent, argues that it is Singh who might have grounds to sue for defamation. Funny how the tables turn in this case.

The BCA updated their press release to tone down the nastiness, to say that "the BCA was libeled by Dr. Singh" rather than "the BCA was maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh". Still, their original words are out their in the public domain. As the British courts have noted, it doesn't matter what they intended to say - it matters what they said, an argument that has been used against Singh himself.

(H/T:  Bad Astronomy)

10.14.2009

PZ Myers and Mr. Deity

I've been a big fan of Mr. Deity from the beginning. Now they've launched their best episode ever!



PZ Myers as the science advisor to Mr. Diety. Great concept. And Myers' acting ain't half-bad either. Kudos to both of them!

Simon Singh Update

Some good news on the Simon Singh libel case against the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). The courts have given him leave to appeal his case, which he formerly 'lost' when Judge Eady construed Singh's use of the word 'bogus' (as in chiropractic deals in 'bogus treatments') as libelous against the BCA. Upon appeal, Lord Justice Laws has found Mr. Justice Eady's interpretation favored rights of reputation over rights of free expression. Left unsaid was that the BCA's highly public case against Singh has done more to tarnish its reputation than Singh could ever have done by himself (i.e. singhle handedly).

Singh isn't out of the woods yet. He had been granted permission to appeal the case. He still has to win the appeal.
Mr Justice Laws described Eady’s judgement, centred on Singh’s use of the word “bogus” in an article published by the Guardian newspaper, as “legally erroneous”.

Laws also pointed out that Eady’s judgement had conflated two issues — the meaning of the phrases complained of, and the issue of whether the article was presented as fact or fair comment.
Laws said there was “no question” of the “good faith” of Singh in writing the article, as the matter was “clearly in the public interest” (link).
Seemingly, Singh's strategy must now be to convince the appeals court of his 'good faith' and that 'bogus' was not meant to deride, but to describe (again in good faith) that chiropractic treatments do not rise to the standards of effective medical treatment.

As for me, I'll take a Lord Justice Laws over a Mr. Justice Eady any day of the week.

10.07.2009

Translating Google's Barcode Doodle


The Google Doodle for today is a barcode. When translated, it reads "Google (ding!)" That's right - it ends with the sound of a little bell, like the typewriters and teletypes of days gone by. Here's how to decipher the barcode:

1) Examine both the bars and the whitespaces.
2) Define the smallest width as a one, the next widest as a two, etc.
3) Widths range from 1 to 4.
4) Write your sequence of numbers in groups of six.
5) Decode the meaning of each group with the Code 128 barcode symbology character set.
6) Note that some codes have two different meanings, depending on the context.

Examining the above barcode, we determine the width series of bars and white spaces as:
2-1-1-2-1-4-2-1-1-3-1-3-1-3-4-1-1-1-1-3-4-1-1-1-1-2-2-1-1-4-2-2-1-1-1-4-1-1-2-2-1-4-1-2-2-1-1-4-2-3-3-1-1-1-2

Break these up into groups of 6 (the last is actually 7 numbers) and apply our Code 128 conversion:
2-1-1-2-1-4   Start code B (the start of the barcode)
2-1-1-3-1-3   = G
1-3-4-1-1-1   = o
1-3-4-1-1-1   = o
1-2-2-1-1-4   = g
2-2-1-1-1-4   = l
1-1-2-2-1-4   = e
1-2-2-1-1-4   = (the BEL character)
2-3-3-1-1-1-2   = Stop

And that's all there is to it!

(Update - The Google Operating System blog has a faster way to decode by uploading the barcode image to OnlineBarcodeReader.com - but the output doesn't let you know about the bell).

10.02.2009

Scam Alert: Cornelia Dassault


If you received a Cornelia Dassault letter, then you are a smart person. How do I know? Because you took it upon yourself to go online to do some research. You want to know if the letter is valid or if it is a scam. You are suspicious of things that sound too good to be true, and that is something that will serve you well for the rest of your life. You are a skeptic and it just saved you some money.

The CORNELIA DASSAULT SCAM has been around for over a year. I first wrote about it here, and since then have received numerous comments and emails from people around the world who have received a letter inviting them to become rich - for a small fee. Although there are variations in the scam, basically this is how it works:

You receive a letter from some rich person, usually a Dr. Grant from the Netherlands. He has recently visited a psychic who told him that, to avoid future misfortune, he must give some of his money away. The psychic takes his hand and he feels something like a small electrical shock. The psychic, named Cornelia Dassault and given the title 'Master of All Ancestral Secret Formulas', tells him that she has a vision of who must receive some of his money - and that person turns out to be you. Dr. Grant, who is officially known as the 'President of the Multi Millionaires Club', writes you and says he will send you the money, usually in the form of two or three checks. All you have to do is fill out some information - very personal information - so he knows who to send the money to or where to deposit it. Also, he invites you to purchase, for a very small fee, a small charm called 'The Great Trigger of Wealth'. All you have to do is think about what you desire most for one minute each day. With the charm, you will be able to win at gambling, make money in the stock market, etc.

That is the essence of the Cornelia Dassault scam. If you have received a similar letter, DO NOT RESPOND! If you do, you will have provided these scammers with your personal information as well as money for a small, useless charm. Your name will go on a list of gullible people and you will be inundated with letters, emails, and calls from other scammers. There only purpose is to separate YOU from your money.

In his letter, Dr. Grant writes that this is the first time he has written to anyone he has not yet met. That is a lie. Although this letter writing scam may have started in Ireland, it has made its way to SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, MALAYSIA, NEW ZEALAND, BELGIUM, AUSTRALIA, ALGERIA, PHILIPPINES, and NORWAY. This is a very large letter writing campaign. These people would not be doing this if they were not making money. If they send out 100 letters, all they need is one person to send them money - then they have enough money to send out 1000 letters. Maybe ten people respond, and before long they are sending out hundreds of thousands of letters, with thousands of people responding. DO NOT BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!

Here are some interesting comments I have received:

Scam is in new zealand, received a letter via post mail today.. Dr. Grant is apparently working with IES (international express services) and they are asking that people send a fee of $120 to receive a financial package with value of over $1000.. the document if someone doesn't know any better is extremely well done.
----------
It is now Australia. Carsten Kruger lives in the USA and Cornelia Dassault wants to help me as well. It is all in Australian dollars - 3 cheques for $5,000 after you pay $55. Oh and Dr Grant has moved to The Netherlands - PO Box 40215 in Maarssen.
----------
Cornelia Dassault wants to help me as well. 3 cheques for $5,000 after you pay $55. But you another $5000, making it a total of $20K. Dr Grant has moved to The Netherlands.
Well worth the read...very clever and it will suck people in.
----------
It seems that these people's scam has traveled all around the world. I just received such a letter this morning. Martin Felder, Financial Director of Club of Mutimillionaires, informs me about 3 checks of $5,000.00 each as a donation from a Mr. Carsten Kruger the Dr. A. Grant reiterates this happy event then introduces Cornelia Dassault and another check for $5,000.00 from Cornelia plus "The Greater Trigger of Wealth" for a 'symbolic' amount of $40.00. I live in the Philippines.
----------
I received the same letter 20 minutes ago and it made me so excited. God answered my prayers, that is my initial reaction. But it made me think who will give me this much these days. Then I opened my computer and try to search for cornelia. Bingo! I found that it is fake and just a scam. I wonder who are the people who have been a victim of these kind of scams. Thanks for this kind of information as it really help.
----------
My best friend got sucked into the first of many steps which will get her,wait for it...$7 million dollars.She is only out about $100 CAD but they wanted more for her to go further(always a red flag for me). Also from the Netherlands with only a post office box# and not even a phone# on a single paper. Thank you for posting this as she was going to keep sending cash...
While it is nice to imagine that, some stranger is going to give you a lot of money for no reason, that is not the way the world works. In the REAL WORLD, there are overwhelmingly more people who want to take money FROM you than give money TO you. They work hard at this. Think about it. You would not give your money to a stranger without expecting something in return. Maybe you're buying clothes or food. Or maybe you willingly give your money to a charity, knowing that they will use it to help other people. But what motivation does someone have to give you money without expecting something in return? Do not delude yourself into thinking that you've lived a good life, been nice and helpful to other people, and that, in some sense, you deserve this good fortune. Perhaps you do, but it won't be coming from a stranger. Not Dr. Grant. Not Cornelia Dassault. There are greedy people behind these scams and they don't care what your personal situation is. But they know they can make money off the gullibility of others. Unfortunately for them, they won't be taking your money because you were wise enough to do the research. You were skeptical.

Here are some other links for more information on this scam:

'Supernatural' Letter Scam Warning
Customer beware as 'psychic' gift scam targets Irish homes
Club of Multimillionaires Complaints
Customer beware as 'psychic' gift scam targets Irish homes
Cornelia Dassault and the President of the Multi-Millionaire's Club

10.01.2009

Aliens Get Foxy

Back in 2006, the aliens landed and told the world which internet browser they preferred - FIREFOX. Using advanced technology, they inscribed the Firefox logo in an oat field near Amity, Oregon. Unfortunately for ET enthusiasts, some local Firefox fans quickly claimed all the credit, describing in detail their plans and methods. They would have you believe such a thing can be done with only rope and two-by-fours. Their elaborate, attention-garnering efforts even went so far as to include 'photos' and 'videos', which, as we all know, are easily faked with proper terrain generating software, Photoshop, and iMovie.

Firefox IS an outstanding browser, but who are we to deny the aliens their credit?


View Larger Map

A collection of crop circles found on Google Earth can be found at the Rodsbot website, which includes over one thousand 'strange' maps.

Judge: "The blondes are fickle"

In an attempt to mediate a dispute between two arguing attorneys over the composition of an all-male jury, Justice William Morris of New York's First District Municipal Court settled the matter by calling for a jury comprised of both men and women. Said the judge,
I think the best way to settle this matter is to call a jury of both men and women. I am sick and tired of hearing you men argue about the relative merits of jurymen, so I'll put a quietus on both of you by making up a jury of three women and three men to adjudicate this controversy.
This decision is particularly noteworthy (I'll explain why shortly). Upon looking across the courtroom, the judge continued
There will be no blondes on this jury either. The blondes are fickle.
Three brunettes were chosen to make up half the jury. One of them protested
Judge, I've got to hurry home to get dinner for my husband.
To which the court accommodated, saying
That's a very important duty, next to this and we will expedite matters so that you may perform your task here and at home.
The unabashed sexism is NOT what makes this noteworthy. Rather, this is an account of the first mixed-sex jury empaneled in the state of New York, occurring in March 1921. In and of itself, this is a fascinating glimpse into the history of the sexes. Apparently, blondes were at a disadvantage even back then.

See the original story here (pdf warn).


9.30.2009

Would You Like to Ride in My Beautiful, My Beautiful UFO?

Hundreds of mysterious lights glide across the night sky. Far below, the wary eyes of Americans, trained for suspicion, track the objects. A 911 call is made. A terrorist attack? More likely, an alien invasion. What else could it possibly be? A more mundane explanation is unavailable, so the incomprehensible becomes likely.

Take, for instance, the recent reaction in Greenwich, CT:
It wasn't a bird, a plane or Superman, but residents of downtown Greenwich thought a myriad of lights in the sky just may have been an unidentified flying object passing overhead Saturday night.

The bright, moving lights in the sky caused several people to call police to report a possible UFO sighting. Some reports indicated there had been 30 to 40 individual lights glowing in the night sky.
(...)
"These were being propelled," said Urda. "If it was an air current, the balloons would have been very lethargically moving along."

Urda said the "intense" orange lights were traveling in pairs, and sometimes threesomes. Urda estimates he saw 30 to 40 go by.

"They kind of disappeared into the clouds all at the same spot," said Urda. "I was standing there in total amazement."
Similar sightings were reported in Norwich, UK:
As previously reported, Sarah Browne, who first contacted the paper after spotting the light, described the light as being “silent” with no aircraft noise, smoke or trail.

Trudy Gray, who lives near Aylsham, said she had seen a similar light the Tuesday before at about the same time. She said: “It was a continuous orange light, quite high up, going in straight line with no sound, no nothing.”
And in Southport, UK
Emergency services raced to Wyke Cop on Sunday night after residents reported a ball of fire falling from the sky.

Fearing the plummeting fireball was a light aircraft or microlight, search and rescue teams patrolled the area whilst ambulances stood by, though nothing was found.
And in Taunton, UK (Somerset)
And Jane Merchant from Taunton said she was relieved after reading other people's reports of a UFO sighting and claims she saw a similar flickering light “moving briskly and quietly across the sky”.

“Every time I've mentioned my experience no one's taken me seriously,” she added.
Invariably, these UFOs are described as silent, reddish-orangish glowing lights moving briskly - sometimes in a straight line, sometimes erratically. They are reported as moving too slow for a plane, too quiet for a helicopter, yet too fast for a balloon or an oriental sky lantern.

Psychic Sundries

Psychic Lying About Other Psychics Attacking Her
Despite her intuitive powers, psychic Janet Lee probably did not see an arrest in her future, especially just weeks after alleging she was the victim of an assault outside her store on Greenwich Avenue.
However, the self-proclaimed "foremost psychic in New England" was arrested by Greenwich police over the weekend after detectives said she lied about being attacked in town by rival psychics over the summer.
Seems like roving gangs of psychics would find a more ingenious way of taking you down than simple pummeling!

Filed Under Belief (Faith) - Some Uri Geller Magic
Then Uri turned toward me and said, “Now, I want you to close your eyes with your hand still covering your drawing, and then transmit your drawing to me mentally, and when I get it, I will draw on your other card what I think you have drawn.”

So, I closed my eyes and began transmitting to Uri Geller the drawing I made.

After about 20 seconds, Uri said, “I am seeing something. I don’t know what it is, but it looks like this.” Upon saying that, he drew on my other card what I had drawn.

When I saw his drawing I was completely amazed. It was almost a perfect replica of what I had drawn!
(...)
I asked Uri how he knew what I had drawn. He replied that “if the image the person is transmitting to me stays in my mind clearly for about 20 seconds, then I know I got it right.”
Well, it's either that or it's simple trickery. Of course, this article wasn't filed under Entertainment...

Psychic Business Struggling for Acceptance
Sophia Anderson set up shop in Boston's famous Italian North End neighborhood September 19th. "I do psychic, tarot cards, palm readings. I do candles, crystals, incense," she explains.

Her vision never included the chilly reception she's now getting from some locals who feel she just doesn't fit in.
(...)
Across the street, restaurant owner Khalid Moheydeen says he hears locals talking.

"They feel it's going to be the wrong element here, people who sort of believe in magic stuff, doesn't fit with the neighborhood," he says.
A clear case of discrimination against the stupid.

'Personal Love Psychic' Sued
A Hartford woman says a Sioux Falls psychic adviser who promised to bring her estranged husband back scammed her out of $30,500.

Jane Stockwell filed a lawsuit last week in Minnehaha County Circuit Court against Katherine Adams, who used to run Psychic Experience at 2012 S. Minnesota Ave. in Sioux Falls. Stockwell wants her money back plus at least $50,000 in punitive damages.
Sorry you got scammed, Jane...but why a 'love psychic' when you could have purchased a love potion for so much less?

9.16.2009

RockerChic4God Revolts Against BofA

Her name is Ann Minch. She's gutsy, taking a big risk to make her point.



"When I finally made my decision about what I needed to do, it was scary," she said. "I knew I was probably going to ruin my credit. (link)"

9.15.2009

Blogger Has Released 'Read More...' Feature

Ooo...I've been waiting on this for a long time. This is just a test post...

Google's Crop Circle Doodle, H. G. Wells, and Zero Wing



On September 4, 2009, Google tweeted "1.12.12 25.15.21.18 15 1.18.5 2.5.12.15.14.7 20.15 21.19" in association with it's mysterious Google logo showing a UFO making off with the 2nd 'O' in its trademarked name. Using A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc., this decoded to "ALL YOUR O ARE BELONG TO US", a reference to the iconic arcade game Zero Wing, made legendary by the "All your base are belong to us" phrase (frequently shortened to simply AYBABTU). This Google 'Doodle' sparked waves of speculation as to what it all means. The 2nd 'O' seemed to have more significance given that even the file name for the picture was "go_gle.gif". Gogle?



Today, Google has a new doodle - a crop circle, again sparking waves of speculation as to what it all means.
This time, the 'L' seems to be missing and the UFO is hovering over the first 'O' in the logo. As before, Google supplied a mysterious tweet, "51.327629, -0.5616088", which turn out to be coordinates:


View Larger Map

Horsell, Surrey in the U.K. happens to be the central location for H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Also, two UFO reports were filed for this location in 1985.

So, what's the connection between H. G. Wells and Zero Wing, other than the scifi element? H. G. Wells was born on September 21, 1866. Zero Wing was released on September 21, 1989. Seems like Google is gearing up for a celebration of Zero Wing's 20th anniversary. Also, Google itself has its 11th birthday coming up, which will be celebrated anywhere from September 7th to 27th (no one really knows when its official birthday is).

Why the missing 'O'? Why the missing 'L'? Could it be the binary connection (e.g. 0 and 1)? Does the UFO hovering over the 1st 'O' in the crop circle mean it's going to be next? In the past, Google has changed it's doodle to incorporate the its age. Perhaps this is just a process of preparing to install a '11' in the name. Who knows...but it seems like a Zero Wing/Google birthday celebration to me. Just as long as it's not a celebration of Joseph Smith's visitation by the Angel Moroni!

9.11.2009


UFO or pterodactyl over Argentinian lake?
A strange object photographed over a lake in Argentina has been described as either a flying saucer or a flying dinosaur.
So that's it? Woo or woo. No other choices? Shall we mourn the loss of creativity at the Telegraph? Has unabashed tabloid journalism stunted their imagination? Are the depths of fecundity only waist high?? One needs only study the picture to realize it's obviously a fat, drunk witch slumped over on her broomstick, trying not to puke as she lurches home. And no, this time I'm not talking about my mother.

More pics here.

Dr. Jay Gordon - Flu Whisperer?

By way of introducing us to why he will not be giving H1N1 vaccines this year to his patients, Dr. Jay Gordon tells us:
I have seen more children and adults with influenza-like illness: 104 degree fevers, muscle soreness, sore throat and negative tests for strep, than in any summer I can remember. I haven’t used the “flu swab” to test anybody, but I’m sure that many if not most of these sick people had Swine Flu. They all felt miserable, and they are all feeling just fine now.
Hellz yeah! I had symptoms like those at one time. I'm telling all my friends that I had swine flu before swine flu was cool!

Dr. Gordon's powers aren't limited to mystical determinations of influenza strains. He also has powers of prognostication - or is a gambler:
I also won’t be giving the flu shot to the kids and parents in my practice unless there are extraordinary risk factors. I anticipate giving none at all this year. I doubt that there will be any really large problems with the vaccine, but I also doubt any really large benefits. As I said, I think that this year’s version of this particular H1N1 is as “mild” as it will ever be and that getting sick with it this year will be good rather than bad. The chances that a new “flu shot” will be overwhelmingly effective are small.
Not sure why "flu shot" is in scare-quotes but "whatever". Dr. Gordon goes on, rambling this way and that in an article that says vaccines can be good, so why give vaccines? He's seems more afraid of giving advice than of the H1N1 virus, but if I can tease one point out of his meandering post, it is that he does not think enough testing is being performed on the H1N1 vaccine. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I assume a new flu vaccine has to follow a rigid protocol of testing before released to the public. After all, new flu vaccines are produced every year, so it's not like we don't have experience in this arena. Yet somehow Dr. Gordon rationalizes that the risk of the new H1N1 flu vaccine is greater than the risk of getting the H1N1 flu virus itself, basing his reasoning solely on his belief that this year's swine flu will be mild. Doctors everywhere are probably coming to the same conclusion, and even the World Health Organization notes:
The vast majority of cases of pandemic influenza A (H1N1) have been mild so far with few deaths. It remains to be seen whether the virus will mutate into a more virulent strain.
And, WHO also addresses Dr. Gordon's concerns about testing:
Q: These must be the fastest vaccines ever produced. Given their fast-tracking, what is the guarantee of safety and efficacy?
...Based on the extensive knowledge available on seasonal vaccines and the results obtained through evaluation of H5N1 avian influenza vaccines, there is no doubt that it will be possible to make effective H1N1 pandemic vaccines.
So, his argument falters. At least he shows a lack of knowledge regarding registering flu vaccines for use in the U.S., because the process with H1N1 is no different than for all the other seasonal strains of flu.

9.10.2009

Misadventures in Ghost Hunting

Woman falls to death while 'ghost-hunting' in T.O.

A woman has fallen to her death after attempting to jump across a gap in the roof of a historic building at the University of Toronto while out on a first date.

A male friend was with her at the time of the incident, which occurred on Thursday morning at around 1:45 a.m. local time. The pair, who had been drinking, were reportedly in the building because they thought it was haunted.

Well, that certainly will make her ghost hunting a whole lot easier!

9.03.2009

Kevin Trudeau's Appeal

The following is from the excellent Consumer Health Digest #09-36:
The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a contempt ruling against Kevin Trudeau but ordered the lower court to reconsider its penalties. Since 1998, the FTC has charged Trudeau with false advertising and obtained consent agreements several times. In 2006, he began using infomercials to market The Weight-Loss Cure "They" Don't Want Your to Know About. The supposed "cure" was centered around the use of injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). However, scientific studies demonstrated that HCG injections didn't cause weight loss and regulatory actions by the FTC and FDA have curbed their use in the United States. In September 2007, the FTC charged Trudeau with violating a 2004 consent agreement by misrepresenting the book's contents and asked the Illinois Federal Court to hold him in contempt. The court did so, banned him, for three years, from involvement in any infomercials for publications in which he has a financial interest, and ordered him to disgorge $37,616,161, which the judge said was a reasonable approximation of the loss consumers suffered as a result of Trudeau’s deceptive infomercials. In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that Trudeau had misrepresented the book's contents. However, the appeals judge said that the lower court judge had failed to explain how he had calculated the penalty and that a three-year ban without an opportunity for reinstatement upon good behavior was too harsh for a civil contempt ruling. The lower court still has wide discretion in setting penalties and could consider a criminal contempt finding if Trudeau is given an adequate opportunity to defend himself against such a charge. Casewatch has posted the relevant documents.
$37.6 million? Doesn't seem high enough for the likes of Kevin Trudeau. This guy should be living on the streets!

Walter and The Skeptic

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote an essay called "The Skeptic" in which he said
The skeptic doth neither affirm nor deny any position but doubteth of it, and applyeth his Reason against that which is affirmed, or denied, to justify his non consenting.
He was beheaded in 1618.

9.02.2009

I'm Lost


Well...not really...but maybe...

I've been taking advantage of a (no longer advertised) deal with BlockBuster. Pay $10 and get as many videos or games as you can stand for a week (as long as you take only one out at a time). After a few movies, I decided to watch the T.V. show Lost, starting with season 1. Last night I started on season 2. So far, it's been intense, and I bet it's a little different experience than watching it week by week. For one, I don't have to worry about commercials. The shows are only 42 minutes long. And their widescreen. But there are some minor annoyances which makes this show as much a soap opera as a drama. For example, the lead character (Jack) cries in every other episode!

For fans of the show, my take must sound like it's coming from decades in the past. They're so far ahead of me. What, is the show into it's 7th season now? 6th? Something like that. The rep. at BlockBuster is also a fan and said she loved seasons 1-3. In her words, there was an interesting story behind them. Now, she says, they're just on the island, doin' it.

Yeah, I get it. Guess the novelty has worn off. It's like being on this blue marble floating in the hostile black. I'm just doin' it.

Anyway, that's why this blog has lapsed recently. I've been lost.