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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).