Monday, August 31, 2009

Good Internet Monday: Consumerist

I rather enjoy the Consumerist, despite the fact that reading articles there often gets my blood boiling pretty quickly. It is, however, a great guide for consumers- they are quick to point out dishonest business dealings to keep the average shopper sharp. Additionally, they post disputes between companies and customers that have gone unresolved or when the customer is being downright screwed. This type of publicity often leads to some semblance of justice when the company reaches the right level of embarrassment...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Random Sunday Thoughts

Ex-Lions players know how to rub it in.
I'm watching Andre Goodman, ex-Lions cornerback, play well for Denver. Goodman was a starting corner for the championship Giants team a few years ago. The Lions struggle every year to get average players to play better, and eventually they do- by letting them go to other teams.

The U.S. is completely f**ked.
Here's a nice story about how GM has been displacing management duties to China. Does our country make anything anymore? Besides movies. And besides lousy pop music. Besides military stuff, too. C'mon, I meant something constructive.

I'm starting to lose faith in Umich coach Rodriguez.
Claims of breaking NCAA rules are leading to an investigation. I was adamant about giving "RichRod" the benefit of the doubt early, but as the problems mount (as well as the number of players leaving for other schools), it's getting tougher to defend him.

I just realized that my shirt is awesome.
I'm wearing a Farmer Jack grocery store employee shirt. I've never actually worked there.** What is impressive about the shirt is that it is now a relic of Detroit: Farmer Jack's was the last major grocery store left in the metro area, but they folded several years ago. Buying groceries in the city means either finding a small time local store or going on a car ride.

**my brother has never worked at Marco's Pizza, but that hasn't stopped him from donning a Marco's Pizza employee shirt. When inquired as to if he has worked there, he replies, "no, my name is Marco Pizza." Straight faced, every time. Always funny.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thunderfoot- Great Youtuber, or Greatest Youtuber?

Seriously, Thunderfoot makes the coolest videos:

Whiskey Tango Friday - Lolcat Bible Project

It's not really the concept - an entire webpage dedicated to translating the bible so it looks like it was written by cats - that lands this site on today's WTF.

It's not the innumerable man hours already put into it (most of the bible, if not all, has already been translated.)

It's not even the hilarious results:
Genesis 1:1 - Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

What really landed this site here is the unintentional hilarity that is the google ads: almost every one advertises courses to learn the bible. For some reason, I don't think that the people who visit the Lolcat Bible Project are interested in learning about the "real" bible.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creationists Are Liars.

Welcome to a new feature, Creationists Are Liars. This will be a non-regular section where I expose the blatant lies of creationists whenever they are brazen enough to draw my ire.

To be fair, most creationists really aren't lying. There are some, however, who warp the truth so badly that what they say is indistinguishable from telling a lie. A text book example is the dark art of quote mining.

Take, for example, this video posted over at the Force blog. It lists a plethora of quotes from seemingly reputable sources that, when carefully prefaced by the author of the video, make it sound like evolution isn't very well supported (by either the scientists or evidence). As far as the quotes go, they are accurate- but taken out of their original context and strung together with the opinions of the author of the video until the meaning is completely distorted. Now I ask you, dear reader, by warping the truth to impose a new meaning, how is this different than lying?

After watching the video, I realized that the easy thing to do was to assume that the video was just quote mining. I decided that it would be far more responsible to seek the truth myself. You will find, as I did, that 95% of the quotes could be found in their full context by simply googling the author and the quote. Many explanations can be found over at Talk Origins' Quote Mine Project. You'll also note that 100% of them can be found echoed at other creationist webpages, still completely out of context.

There was one, however, that threw me for a loop-

"[There is not] enough evidence from fossil material to take theorising out of the realms of fantasy" - New Scientist, August 1972, p.259.
On the web, I could not find this quote in its original context anywhere. I was also bothered to see such a phrase (with its implied meaning imposed by the video) pulled directly out of New Scientist.

It was at this point that I did the unthinkable- I went to the library. It was trivial to find the original line; it was the fifth line of a four paragraph book review:

"It is proving particularly difficult to understand the evolution of man: through what forms has he progressed--vegetarian or carnivore, quadruped or brachiator? When did he become a biped, when a toolmaker? How close is his relationship to the great apes? When did they diverge? We know too little of the timing or mechanisms of evolution, nor tis there enough evidence from fossil material to take our theorising out of the realms of fantasy."

That's right- this article (not even a true peer reviewed scientific article, but a mere book review!) does not doubt evolution, nor that we are close cousins to the great apes; it only declares that as of August, 1972, there was not enough evidence to fill in the minute details. The article continues that the title of the book being reviewed is misleading- it does not argue that we are not apes ourselves, but focuses on when we split off from the line that has become modern great apes.

There are two points to be made with this little exercise:
1) If you are actually interested in the truth, it often does not take much work to find it. A handful of Google searches was all it took to get me most of the way; a quick trip to the local library (not even an hour of work!) completed the journey. Given that it takes so little effort to sort fact from fiction, why do not more people do this?

2) At some point, a person found this quote in the context of the original article and isolated it in order to twist the original meaning, therefore lying to his or her audience. I am certainly not blaming Zach over at the Force blog. I'm not evening blaming the creator of the video, who likely found this isolated quote as it is presented in his propaganda piece. I put the blame on the original quote miner, who is undeniably a liar.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Name! That! Laptop!

Recently, the Lab decided to stringently enforce a rule saying that all laptops leaving lab premises must have encryption. Furthermore, they would administer the encryption. Okay, not so bad...

...but, you have one option for encryption. An option that doesn't work on any older Macintosh laptops. This means that a lot of older Lab-issued laptops are nothing more than overly expensive desktops as they will not be allowed to leave the lab.

I've lucked out, however- although my old laptop is brick'd, some extra grant money within the group has afforded me a brand spankin' new Macbook Pro! Huzzah!

Here's where you come in- I must give this machine a host name so I can SSH to and from, etc, etc. I would like to hear everyone's suggestions for names. Points are given for comedy value and the likelihood of I.T. approving the name. For example, binLaden would be a great host name. Imagine logging into a computer named binLaden located somewhere in a government weapons lab. Comedy gold!

So please post your suggested name in the comments. If I get enough responses, I'll hold a binding poll to name my new laptop. My new laptop should be arriving within two weeks.

Good Internet Monday: AronRa

As I continue to argue with creationists around the web, I repeatedly refer to works of others that express the ideas of and evidence for evolution far better than I ever could. Among these are the videos made by YouTuber AronRa in his series, Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

An example of his excellent work:

With GIM, I set out to share links that demonstrate how the web can be a medium through which someone's expertise can be harnessed to elucidate abstract ideas clearly and creatively. AronRa has all of this in spades.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday - Detroit Lions 2008 Season

Here it is. 17 weeks of pure torture. Oh, the heart wrench!

The season summary fits in the WTF feature for two reasons: 1) it is the eve of the Lions preseason, and 2) until you see it, it is impossible to believe how bad that team really was. They were really, really bad. The closest they got to winning was a 12-10 loss in Minnesota. Here's the winning (losing?) play that gave the Vikings the 2 point advantage:

Tomorrow is their first preseason game, and I want them to lose. Badly. Last year, they were preseason champs (4-0, baby!) So this year, they better go 0-4 in the preseason. That way, they will at least win 1 real game. Please. I can't take too many more videos like this:

Thursday, August 13, 2009


What a week.
I was hoping to have some preliminary telescope pics up, but the fan in my MacBook died. It's over three years old, so I can't complain too much, but dag. Dag.

Then, I was hoping to see some of the Perseid meteor shower, but the monsoon season returned just in time to cloud over the night sky.

And I was hoping that there wouldn't be a large-scale, public justification for Monday's post. Well, shit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good Internet Monday: Talk Origins

I've learned quickly that the challenge of this article is to resist the urge to consistently grab low-hanging-fruit and work to grab more obscure pieces of the internet-- that is, if everyone knows about the sites I post about, what's the point?

I admit failure on this front today, but with good reason. I've been debating the validity of evolution online intensely over the past week, and am surprised that the level of understanding of the theory amongst the general public is so low. Furthermore, there are creationists who have flagrant misconceptions about the theory.

While I've been involved in my own discussions, biologist blogger PZ Myers (along with 300+ students, scientists, and secularists) has recently been to a trip to Ken Ham's odious creation "museum", a place where ignorance is not only embraced but flaunted.

With these two items in mind, I found it appropriate to designate Talk Origins(.org) as today's GIM appointee. This is a site dedicated to presenting the evidence, clarifying misconceptions, and harboring open discussion on evolution. It is a great place to visit for information on the most important theory in biology. Some people really need to see the section on evidence...

Seriously, Wendy... the evidence section... read it. All of it.

More Scopin' Fun

I've continued to play with the Galileoscope over the weekend. I will say this again, it has been the best $15 I've spent in my life. While I will certainly be looking for a high end 'scope when I can afford it, the Galileoscope does what a good intro telescope should. At both 25x and 50x, you can aim at any dark spot in the sky and see dozens of stars that were not visible with the naked eye. You can clearly see the 4 largest Jovian moons, and I was even able to make out the main cloud bands on Jupiter.

I've made -some- progress on the video capture front. I've given up on using my hand-held digital camera and have decided to try to mount a webcam to the eyepiece (ala Thunderf00t, a man who clearly knows his astronomy.) I was having troubles getting my external webcam to work with my Macbook, but blogger Sidiasus stepped up to the plate and suggested using a memory-stick based Ubuntu Linux distribution. This works great, and has the additional benefit of command-line control over the webcam image. I'll try to test this sometime this week. In the end, the case may be that I will need better equipment to capture some of the images I've witnessed over the past several weeks.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Whiskey Tango Friday

In this inaugural edition of Whiskey Tango Friday (WTF), I present a piece of the internet that I've been meaning to share for a long time.

At last May's AGU meeting, I was perusing the research posters when I ran into one that piqued my interest. I can no longer remember the exact title, but it was something along the lines of how space ions can impact terrestrial weather. Okay, sounds neat, I'll give it a look. It didn't take long for me to realize that the poster didn't make much sense. It asserted that a strong electric field, called the SOLAR CAPACITOR [emphasis not mine] was responsible for ALL weather, especially the scary stuff, such as hurricanes. The author said that comets are the result of this SOLAR CAPACITOR, and astronomers were dumb for calling comets "dirty snowballs" (a gross over-simplification of decades of observations).

After re-reading a few of these points to make sure I wasn't nuts, I realized that the author was a crank. He also had a few self-published books on display, covering topics such as how to use a new form of math (using non-base-10 number systems) to calculate all of the prime numbers and other "science" books with no data, no references, but a lot of hand-drawn pictures that seemed to ignore a lot of physics. The more I reviewed his material, the more I realized he was good at being a crank.

The identity of this man? James McCanney. For this first WTF, I present his website in all of its cranky glory. A few highlights demonstrate that James McCanney is a scientific rebel:
  • Pictures? Paragraphs? Layout? Sentences that end in anything but ellipsis or exclamation points? Screw that! Why water down James McCanney's message of truth? Take THAT, grammar!
  • A link to a page where he's selling Doulton (?) personal water filters. Take THAT, fluoridation!
  • An opening statement (buried in a link 1/3 down the page) that explains how astronomy relies on four incorrect axioms- axioms that, if exposed, will bring down our astronomer overlords! These four lies have been taught to every astronomy PhD student since the 50's, rendering those degrees useless! Take THAT, astronomers!
  • Note that James McCanney doesn't have a PhD, just a masters degree. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because he was TOO SMART to be tricked by said axioms. Take THAT, establishment!
  • After all of his theories, rants, and links to his books, there is a small section called "about conspiracy theories." It reads, " ... occasionally i hear someone say this page contains "conspiracy theories" ... that term was created by a government think tank back in the 60's to de-rate and ridicule anything not broadcast by the official news media on the evening news[.]" That's right, he just conspiracy-theoried away conspiracy-theories. Take THAT, rational thought!
Some day I'll have to work through his space weather section and show why it's just plain wrong. It would be horribly unfair of me to pick on his work without saying why it's wrong. But alas, such is not the goal of WTF. I just have time to bring such oddities to light.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

As Advertised.

The Galileoscope came out again last night. It was not the best night for observing, however- nearly full moon washed out many objects, and there was a bit of cloud cover that cut the night short. Despite this, for the first time I found Jupiter! Sure enough, just as claimed, I was able to see 4-5 moons. It was incredible. I could not see the cloud bands, and the Jovian moons were just specs, but I was excited none the less.

As I admitted to a good friend of mine, astronomy is NOT a strong point of mine, so I had to use a nifty iPhone/iPod touch app to help me find things (Planets by Dana Peters - free and recommended.)

I am trying to jury rig a camera to the 'scope to get some images here, but it hasn't gone well so far. I'll try a few new things tonight.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cage and Aquarium

One of the benefits of working at "the Lab" is a very flexible schedule. For example, I have every other Friday off, giving me more time with my family. This past Friday I took advantage of this by taking a trip (planned by Mrs. Spacecataz -- the genius in the family) to the Albuquerque aquarium. After being a bit disappointed by the ABQ zoo, we were pleasantly surprised by the aquarium. Very large displays and a huge number of fish. My personal favorite was the manta ray tank. You could get exceptionally close to the critters:

My 18-month old daughter absolute loved it. At one point, she stopped staring at the manta rays long enough to give both mom and dad a hug. It was as if she was giving us a quick thank you. She didn't like the eels, though.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Good Internet Monday

To help create a continuous output of posts on this blog as well as generate some kind of readership, I am introducing two new features: Every Monday is "Good Internet Monday." I'll link to a blog, website, youtube channel, etc. that I believe demonstrates the good features of the wild, wild intertubes. Fridays will be "Whiskey Tango Friday (WTF)", where I'll present some of the more eclectic, weird, or just plain dumb parts of the 'tubes.

Today's GIM is the YouTube channel xxxHERPERxxx, which features "Brandon's Herp Adventures." Brandon, the channel owner, goes in search of various reptiles in the wetlands around his home. He finds some interesting species (especially snakes, where he's found copperheads and rattlers), and delivers interesting information about all of them- from their official species name to their behavior, diet, etc.

What is especially neat is that Brandon is probably only 16 or so years old, but handles the animals with an exceptional amount of skill and easily doles out loads of information. Amateur science channels like this are one of the best parts of YouTube.

He has disabled embedding, but here is a great example of his work:

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Tonight was the second night that I was able to take out my "Galileoscope" and take a look at the moon. I have a shameful confession to make- not only is this my first telescope, it is also my first time outside of an undergrad intro to astronomy class that I've spent some quality time looking at the night sky. Pretty bad for a space scientist...

Anyhow, the 'scope is everything for which I had hoped. At 25x and 50x, the moon was amazing. Many of the smaller craters are easily visible, as well as the rays coming off of the larger ones. The detail is stunning and inspiring. The challenges with the smaller scope are focusing (performed by pushing/pulling/twisting the inner tube in and out of the larger one) and keeping the scope steady on a cheap camera tripod.

Tonight, feeling a bit more confident with my ability to find objects in the sky, I turned toward some of the brighter stars. Although I couldn't line them up, I was amazed at the number of stars that I could see through the 'scope in areas that appeared empty with the naked eye. I was taken aback by the thought that in each empty space I could see with the telescope, there were an infinite number of objects waiting to be seen. Of course this should be obvious, but until you finally look yourself, it is hard to fathom.

This is the best fifteen bucks I've spent in a long, long time.