Friday, November 29, 2002

No more for today

Really. Because my clan is observing Thanksgiving today, and I have some relatives to argue with and some rugrats to rassle. Best wishes to all.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Does your Tivo think you're gay?

I just got through looking up a couple of books on Amazon for the links, and they're not particularly representative of my purchases. Amazon will duly record them though, and I'm sure I'll see no end of strange book recommendations for a while. A couple of them are even on a list that some lefty compiled to help in getting an FBI file.

That reminds me of an article in the dead-tree Wall Street Journal with a headline I stole above, which discussed how the behavior of Tivo led to some amusing situations. If you're not familiar with Tivo, it is a disk based video recording system which not only records TV content, but makes recommendations for future viewing based on past selections.

The recommendations feature is what leads to the weirdness. As I recall, the article suggested that one episode of "Queer as Folk" was enough to stamp a pink triangle on you. Some people cited in the article were trying to pick countervailing programs to get Tivo to change its behavior. Apparently this concept has even made it to certain sitcoms.

Like with Amazon, Tivo can be "trained". This involves "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" keys on the remote, and you can press them more than once for a given selection. After enough of this presumably you'll get better recommendations, and you won't have to worry about your Tivo talking behind your back.

College politics

Oh, to be a college kid and know everything again. Sgt. Stryker has some fun with one here. May the kid live long enough to appreciate just how asinine he was.

Not that I was different at that age. Once in college I called in to a radio talk show host about something that offended me - I don't remember what. I was folded, spindled and mutilated, and then got to listen to the editorializing about how poorly educated college students were to boot. The host was right about me at least, and generally all I had had to offer were some vague sentiments and some attitude.

We won't ever cure this. You can't tell kids they're smart all their lives, then send them off to college and expect them suddenly to develop humility and keep their less informed opinions to themselves. When I run into it I try to point the victim to alternate sources of information which might not have been available, just to see if I'm dealing with someone aware enough to realize that nobody knows everything. It sure would have helped me.

I also seemed to give more credence to things I had discovered on my own than I did to things that were mainstream or part of an established curriculum. It was another chance to preen - I was an independent thinker, dammit. So there was a subversive thrill of sorts from reading stuff like "Steal This Book" and "The Anarchist's Cookbook" (follow the link to see what the author has to say about his own work now that he's grown up). There was other crap too like "The Greening of America" and Carlos Castaneda. Moral: forbid, censor or discourage something and watch how fast the kids find it and soak it up.

Then the day finally came when I got honest 40 hour professional paychecks, complete with brutal deductions. Oh no, the net cash flow between me and the feds had suddenly switched directions. That did wonders for my attitude - good grief, what could the feds possibly be doing with that much money just from me alone?

Hopefully similar epiphanies await some of the current staff of the Hoosier Review. Joshua Claybourn generally has his head screwed on straight, but others there need some work yet.

Fortunately we also have Campus Nonsense, Bo Cowgill, Robert Bauer, Patrick Carver, Ben Domenech, Hanah Metchis, Patrick Ruffini, Kyle Still, and sundry others who deserve mention but I don't happen to remember right now. Any of them do a better job than I probably would have at that age.

A big bust

John Scalzi gets cosmological:
I was initially a little confused by the cover, in that with the exception of a couple of unregenerate Hoyle-loving solid-statists out there, probably the entire of the magazine's 185,000-member subscriber base has probably already signed off on the whole Big Bang thing; it'd be like Parenting magazine having a cover story that asked if its readers believed in pregnancy.
No, Mr. Scalzi. The parents were around for that big bang. OTOH no one has ever seen the kind you're talking about.
The second aim is to give non-Creationist parents some reasonable ammunition at the next school board meeting, when some Bible-brandishing yahoo demands the science curriculum be changed to give equal footing to whatever damn fool brew of mysticism and junk science they've cobbled together this year to make an end-run around the separation of church and state, and someone rational needs to step in and point out what evidence exists to suggest the Big Bang actually happened.
Of course we must insult those we don't agree with.

All you really have to do is point out the obvious - creationism isn't science. And to get along with your neighbors as any decent person would want to do, you drop the offensive part of the curriculum - is anyone going to miss the big bang?

Mr Scalzi seems blind to the possibility of science and creationism living in harmony.

And Mr. Rationality doesn't explain just how local control of the school curriculum has anything to do with separation of church and state. Maybe that's because it doesn't, and he doesn't want to expose the fact that he has no basis for intervening on such grounds.
I'd go straight to the endgame, which would be to inform the school board that if it went ahead and confused science and theology, I'd be more than pleased to drag in the ACLU and make it take all the tax money it was planning to use on football uniforms and use it to pay lawyers instead.
Mr. Scalzi doesn't much like democracy, does he? He thinks it's ok if one horse's ass decides to trump the will of an entire town by dragging in goons from the outside. Why would he want to live amongst such a benighted populace, anyway? - let him go elsewhere.
Fundamentally, one doesn't "believe" or have faith in much of anything as it regards science, since as a process science isn't about believing at all.
Dead wrong, and the next post down is devoted to this in detail. The short answer is that you have to believe in the process - if Mr. Scalzi is aware of this he doesn't let on.

I expect better from a professional journalist.

Faith in science

I'm not through with the Scalzi post yet.

Mr. Scalzi doesn't like Creationists. OK, that's his prerogative. The problem here is that he thinks that he has reason on his side. In particular he tells us that there is no faith behind the big-bang theory.

Actually there is. Here are a few of the assumptions:
  1. The universe behaves as the rules of logic do.
  2. The model physicists are using for the behavior of the universe is correct, despite being extrapolated back 5 billion years and being applied to conditions never experienced since.
  3. The behavior of matter and energy has not changed over the entire period, nor has it changed over the extreme range of conditions postulated by the big bang theory.
  4. That we know all of the relevant phenomena.
Science can't function at all without #1. That science leads to many useful results is beyond question - not for nothing did I go to engineering school. But this is still an assumption. There is no way to prove it with logic - that would require circular reasoning.

#2 requires a huge leap of faith. Big-bang believers would use the assumption that the behavior of the universe is invariant over such a long period in deriving a theory that would tell us that an entire universe can just show up without cause. Nothing like having it both ways, is there?

#3 seems plausible enough, but ordinarily we expect to demonstrate such things in a lab by mimicking the conditions and showing the consequences. And it's not so easy to duplicate the conditions that supposedly happened in those first critical moments.

This is a severe problem. So under ordinary circumstances one might expect more modest claims about the big bang theory. Likewise with evolution - no one can show us any appreciable fragment of the purported chain of evolution in a laboratory demonstration. That this is a tall order is irrelevant - it's necessary to support the theory.

But non-religious explanations for the origins of the universe, the earth and the life on it are essential to atheists. So atheists hide these shortcomings which would be fatal to any other scientific theories to provide themselves with intellectual cover.

#4 is tempting, but really now - is anyone prepared to say that we've discovered every last scientific phenomenon that might be relevant? How could we know the answer even in principle?

In conclusion, science in general and the big bang theory in particular rely on all manner of unprovable assumptions. That is, upon faith. Just like the creationists' beliefs do. The major difference is that the creationists acknowledge their faith.

Mr. Scalzi is impressed with the fact that the big bang theory is "scientific". Of course scientists offer a theory - that's what they do. But they'll never offer a theory that invokes deities because scientists don't know how to investigate deities. Thus the mere existence of a scientific theory that explains something that otherwise would have been explained in religious terms proves nothing in itself.

I agree with Mr. Scalzi that creationism should not be taught in science class. That's because it's not science. It's that simple - case closed.

However, there's no reason to teach the big bang theory or any other scientific alternative to creationism either. Especially when it goes against the express wishes of the locals.

If the big bang theory must be taught, then the shortcomings above should be noted with it, with special emphasis on the faith upon which all science ultimately rests.

Because you can't understand science without understanding the underlying faith.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Charles Johnson for President

Well, maybe not. But he's got a terrific website named Little Green Footballs, worthy of a permalink of anyone capable of walking erect. And don't forget he has tipjars for both Amazon and PayPal.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Our tax dollars at work

According to the local news, the city of St. Louis was about to distribute some calendars when a controversy erupted about one of the pictures in it. It showed several kids standing in a circle with their feet pointed inward. All had shoes on except for a black kid - the others aren't showing any skin.

OK so far. But there was a caption beneath that said "Eeny meeny miney moe".

This made certain sensitive souls think of the next line of the old non-PC kids' rhyme, one version of which goes "catch a nigger by the toe".

So it looks like the calendars won't be distributed after all.

UPDATE: According to Juan "Scoop" Gato, it was U-City, not St. Louis itself.

Christmas shopping ideas?

Never having been a 10 year old girl, I'm trying to figure out a good present for one. I'm thinking of crafts and such, preferably avoiding whatever stains, chokes or makes noise. Any suggestions?

I got her a little sewing machine last year. She liked it, but nobody was around to show her how to use it. It seems that domestic talents died out in my family's women with my generation.

I may compromise on the "makes noise". The kid's a ham, so a karaoke machine might be a good idea - they have one at Sam's Club.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Below the belt

Blogdex has several entries for the story about the scientist who supposedly burned his penis with his laptop PC.

I'm skeptical, mainly because of the claimed 0.8" blister on his scrotum. I suppose it's geometrically possible if he was reclining, or if he's this guy (not work safe), but I'm thinking we're not hearing the real story. People have never shown a lack of ingenuity in explaining pregnancies, venereal diseases and other below-the-belt injuries.

For pregnancy, my favorite is this claim that in Civil War times allegedly a woman was impregnated when she had been struck in the low abdomen by a bullet that had previously struck a young man's testicle. Of course those killjoys at Snopes say it never happened.

There are innocent ways you can get VD, such as during childbirth, but not enough to account for its incidence. I suppose you could get VD from a toilet seat, but not when used as intended. Despite graffiti, I don't think you can get "crabs" from them either (hmm - is this the real reason for the increase in popularity of depilation?). But it could be that you could get gonorrhea from an inflatable "love doll" (that's when you know you're really a loser - your love doll is running around on you).

Then there have been "accidental" penis injuries thanks to encounters with vacuum cleaners and at least one motel's swimming pool pump intakes (gotta trust me on this, I couldn't find a link). This guy claimed an intruder had cut off his penis, but in fact had done it himself.

We didn't get to hear this guy's excuse, but we know he really shouldn't have relieved himself on a 600V power supply.

Of course accidents do happen - This guy allegedly got hurt by a toilet seat at Starbucks (do not suffer a toilet seat that slides from side to side, trust me). This poor drudge was bitten by a snake (the article doesn't address any measures taken to extract the venom). I'm thinking that a guy could get hurt from the Bungee Sex Experience too.

Women have their problems too. Get ready to cringe, ladies...years ago I read about this in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but were Afraid to Ask)". It seems that a couple was trying to have a baby without success. The doctor examined the wife and found that her hymen was intact, but her meatus (the exit from the urethra) was stretched out of shape. She had been told sex was painful, and he didn't know any better, so... That must have taken some work.

And watch where you sit - things get, uh, misplaced. Yes, here too - gerbils beware.

While I'm filling you in, here you can find some MRI images taken of a copulating couple. It doesn't really fit in with the rest, but if you wanted something well edited you'd be reading something else.