Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Funny Searches: July 2007

Didn't follow a lot of June, so let's see how July goes.

Keep posting I like ur blogs: Just try to sound sincere and don't include some link to herbal pills to boost your chi.

WHERE DO POWER COME FROM: It comes from the fact that you've got the touch. You've got the power. The power to turn off your caps lock.

scam candle stomach psychic: And I thought those ear candles sounded potentially dangerous. What does the psychic do? Palm it inside and then extract it with some chicken guts?

9/11 CTs are retarded: And how!

autism and astrology which planet causes autism: Yeah, they went there: They used yet another overly broad definition of "mercury"

the pseudoscience of irreducible complexity: You can't prove it when it shows up, and even if you could, so what?

how to make a bomb: Here's some examples you can follow.

pendulum odd crazy shit weird: People are so easily surprised by the mundane.

people rolled in newspaper fetish: Whatever floats your boat is okay by me as long as you don't hit me with them.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pointless Question #4

You're in Engineering. It's coming close to 1600 hours. All of the ship's replicators are down and you can't figure out why. The captain comes down and wants to know why he can't have his fucking Earl Grey, and he wants an answer NOW.

What do you tell him?

Doggerel #115: "Fair and Balanced"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the mantras used by those who feign objectivity or don't bother performing journalism by actually researching their topic is "fair and balanced." The big problem I see with that phrase is that it's contradictory: In scientific matters, it's rare for the media to treat both sides in a fair manner. They prefer "balance" so that they can pretend to sit on the fence.

Fairness means treating something according to its merits. Well-established scientific theories should be treated as the most preferred explanations, and crackpot hypotheses without testable predictions or good evidence should go unmentioned in a serious article. The mainstream media often seem to think otherwise.

"Balance" means presenting both sides, whether or not they deserve it. Often, the media will fail to even deliver on this front, as many programs merely present a token skeptic, often edited down to take away anything of substance. If balance is insisted upon, it shouldn't be the journalists doing the editing: It should be the proponents picking out their best arguments.

A likely reason the media maintains false balance and false fairness is ratings: If there's a manufactured controversy, they can continue reporting on it indefinitely. Woos have raised this sort of act to an art.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pointless Question #3

You're wandering through the Cave of Fiery Doom, a dreaded place no mortal has ever returned from, in search of a vital item that'll let you defeat the evil overlord. Fire elementals, flaming jinn, and red dragons wander about randomly attacking people who wander in.

So why are there treasure chests just lying about? On top of that, why are they filled with ice swords, ice armor, and magic ice-spewing items?

Doggerel #114: "Communists!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

A lot of fundies out there like to pretend that we're all Communists because Communist leaders made a big deal about being atheists. Compare: A lot of white supremacists make a big deal about being Christian. Does that mean that all Christians are white supremacists or vice-versa? Of course not. There's nothing specifying that Christians must be white supremacists. There's nothing specifying that atheists must be Communists. Atheism's been around much longer than Communism, for one thing.

The quick and dirty of Communism is this: The state owns everything and distributes it according to need. Everyone has a constitutional guarantee for a job and a home. Some people might find that attractive on paper, but corruption and abuse inevitably sets in when an unchecked authoritarian leader is involved. The spectacular example of that is the villain known as Joseph Stalin, who ran kangaroo courts, supported Lysenko's woo, and would probably have sent me and every one of my friends and family to the gulags for believing in heredity and doubly so for evolution.

Worse is that somehow fundies believe that any nasty thing Communism did against religion must be true for all atheists, even if they make a very big deal about universal freedom of speech. I think it's largely a case of cherry-picking and projection, after all, the fundies who complain about this are often quite willing to do exactly the same unethical actions when it's convenient for their side. So far, I have yet to meet any atheists who seriously endorse religious discrimination. I think it's always unethical.

As for my personal opinions on economics, I don't think Communism has a real chance of ever working. I've likened Intelligent Design to it on more than one occasion, while comparing evolution to Capitalism: Communism requires a state be intelligent and compassionate enough to design a massive economy that benefits everyone. I don't have a lot of faith in the possibility of either in a government. Capitalism, like evolution, will result in some suboptimal systems, but at least it will tend to make adaptations as conditions change. It still needs a lot of oversight, but I think it's a far better system than Communism.

Everyone's Entitled to an Occasional Moment of Stupidity, Right?

Got one of those "take a tour for a free vacation" thing. Waiting for the email so I can cancel. The temptation to be able to get free air fare and hotel for the next The Amazing! Meeting clouded my generally better judgment.

I'm gonna call it off before it ends up like one of those time share things on South Park when I'll find out the aggressive sales pitch goes all the way up to the president.

Commence making fun of me.

At least no physical injury came of it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Doggerel #113: "Infinite"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One word many woos are fond of is "infinite" to describe various aspects of their pet woo, even though sometimes it ends up being unnoticeable. It seems a number of people out there really don't "get" infinity. There's a difference between "a really, really big number" and infinity.

One of the commonly touted "infinite" things is God. Many fundies out there will assign their deity with omnipotence one moment, but will sometimes shrink his powers into nonexistence when a demonstration is requested.

Other woos will often try to associate "infinity" with whatever they're touting, often trying to make it sound more important or inaccessible to science, like they often do with "invisible." This is pretty much a baseless assertion, as well as transfer. If they want us to buy into something being infinite, they should be able to squeeze in some non-zero value for us to see first.

Recommended Reading:
"Infinite:" I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pointless Question #2

You've been strapped into the cockpit of the latest prototype space fighter, laden with all the cutting-edge experimental technology Earth has to offer. The enemy has a truly massive fleet with awesome planet-crushing battleships. They are completely and utterly relentless, and you will be facing them alone. No squadron will help you.

What the frell are your superiors thinking?

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Belated B Gift From My Bro

Lot of light pollution, but here you can see me blowing up Alderaan...

In a deck parasol:

It came from wickedlasers.com. Specifically the 35mW version of this. You still have a chance to show up my bro. Get me a 100+ mW blue one for Decemberween.

Just a Note

I've had to dinker with some of the settings for the Skeptiplomacy forum. A number of spammers were sneaking in, so I've tried to set it to require my approval before someone can sign up. If you're a player trying to sign on and can't, leave a comment here.

Doggerel #112: "Subtle"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

There are a fair number of woos out there who will claim that their woo powers have very obvious effects, and yet when confronted and asked to produce them, they will often shift to claim that they're "subtle," as if that were a barrier to scientific investigation.

The more subtle the effect, the more you have to rely on tight protocols or, in other words, science. Despite woos trying to claim the invisible for themselves, it is science that has brought us knowledge of invisible things we now take for granted in our everyday lives.

Usually, woos claim that whatever they believe in has effects, but retreat into this doggerel when those effects fail to show up, or if there's lots of unmonitored confounding factors to deal with. Controlled experiments are designed to eliminate or reduce confounding factors. If the effects don't show up, isn't it much simpler to conclude they don't exist? All "subtle" does is increase the number of trials, require slightly more precise equipment, and that sort of thing. The question then becomes: If it's that subtle, what makes you think it exists in the first place?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Questions From Some Guy Named Hermant

Came across the list via Hallq. Hope it's not too repetitive.

Why do you not believe in God?: Because with the various hypotheses out there, I'd expect to see evidence, and there isn't any. Other hypotheses don't predict evidence and are thus equivalent to Carl Sagan's invisible dragon.

Where do your morals come from?: Essentially the nearly inevitable consequence that evolution would move towards developing an organism that takes advantage of altruism, a roundabout but reliable method of helping oneself that works for an entire community of organisms.

What is the meaning of life?: That's a meaningless question.

Is atheism a religion?: No. But then, someone will change the definition of religion to temporarily include atheism and change it back when no one's looking.

If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?: Whatever I can to make them less troubling for everyone.

Should atheists be trying to convince others to stop believing in God?: I certainly think so. Truth is important. In addition to that principle, many, many deities people believe in are dangerous, unquestionable authorities and/or amendable to whatever people want to do. If someone thinks it's okay to perform all sorts of hideous crimes, it's easy for them to imagine their deity wants them to.

Weren’t some of the worst atrocities in the 20th century committed by atheists?: Yes. The Soviet Union and China were among them. The problem is that their atheism can't be responsible for it anymore than, say, a lack of belief in astrology or alchemy could be responsible. The problem is that putting absolute authority in a person tends to encourage him to destroy any dissent. It's authoritarianism that's the problem, and religion is one additional source of authoritarianism. I'm very much against authoritarianism.

How could billions of people be wrong when it comes to belief in God?: Because we all share the same faulty wiring that disposes us towards wishful thinking over critical thinking. People used to think that the world was flat, or that the stuff in the sky was made of something different than Earth. American Idol is not a model of epistemology.

Why does the universe exist?: Does there have to be a reason beyond, say, some mindless quantum/string/brane event?

How did life originate?: Probably one of the abiogenesis models still under debate followed by evolution. We're working on it, rather than assuming anything a priori and stopping there.

Is all religion harmful?: I'd say so, but some are less harmful than others, only having some minor damage to critical thinking skills. Others are capable of generating terrorism.

What’s so bad about religious moderates?: Contrary to what most people think, there just don't seem to be that many religious moderates out there: There are a lot of "squishy" pseudomoderates, who like the pseudomoderates Martin Luther King Jr. railed against, only wish to avoid conflict. These are the appeasers who think that having atheists quiet down will quiet down the fundies. The problem is that whenever atheism isn't on the forefront, fundies will continue to shout and lie about us. Thankfully, being an atheist isn't as visually obvious as being non-white so it's been very hard for fundies to engage in such gross discrimination so easily.

Is there anything redeeming about religion?: Nothing that can't be fulfilled through other means. All the literature, music, and so forth can be inspired through other means.

What if you’re wrong about God (and He does exist)?:
A) Omnibenevolent god: No problem, except he'd probably have a lot of explaining to do.
B) Fundie god: I'd be morally obligated to oppose him. Besides, who's want to spend eternity with a bunch of amoral fundies? I'll take the flames over that.
C) Some old forgotten deities: Well, what if you're wrong about them?

Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?: No. They should only be tolerated.

Are atheists smarter than theists?: Not inherently. The definition of "smart" probably needs a lot of debate before we can start.

How do you deal with the historical Jesus if you don’t believe in his divinity?:
A) He may have been a magician who got some tricks exaggerated or even made up. It happened to Randi at least once.
B) He may have been a preacher/teacher/whatever who had miracles assigned to him afterwards.

Would the world be better off without any religion?: Yes. How much better is still open for debate, but I doubt it'd be a utopia. Just better.

What happens when we die?: The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out... but we can at least hope for more as long as we don't mistake hope for evidence.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The *NEW* Adventures of Pointless Fun

Well, it's been a good few decades, and some edgy execs want to bring back Pointless Fun in all-new adventures. They've decided the original was too dark for today's hip young generations, so no one will ever die, there'll be a bunch of pointless MacGuffins, and a cute animal sidekick.

Where's an Egg?: Since evolution by genetic heritability and natural selection has been ditched in favor of the nigh-supernatural hypothesis of Lysenkoism because evolution is hostile to dialectical materialism and Lysenkoism is flattering to it, Soviet agriculture has collapsed. You play a detective with an egg on his mind. The last egg in Soviet Russia is depending on you!

Psychopath: The spinny black box desperately needs to meet up with the shifting white block! But their love is forbidden and bad guys put all sorts of obstacles in your way, but they always leave a solution solvable within a certain number of steps. I have no idea what neuroses have to do with this, though.

Orb: No relation to any previous games I mentioned with similar names! Secret collect!

Phighter: Help this Greek letter defeat space zombies!

Live Action Role Playing meets... Tetris:

Tetris blocks struggle to fit in in the real world:

Homer has mad skillz... almost:

You know, I think that Gameboy has something against him...

Everyone knows ninjas love Tetris:

Heck, everyone loves Tetris, period:

This Is a Public Warning

Please be on the lookout for this guy:

Please be warned:

It will not be surprising if he transforms into this guy.

If he does make the transformation, watch out for spin artists in his wake.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cocksnack's Back! (Maybe)

Rejoice in his breathtaking inanity!

Well, not entirely sure, but it's a Las Vegas addy and the first three of four numbers match. (Fourth not given by Sitemeter)

I thought I recognized his epistemological nihilism, but I ended up giving him a new nickname when he committed an absurd argumentum ad populum, claiming that atheism was a religion because *gasp* popular magazines said so!

That new nickname: "American Idolater" because his facts change based on some fashionable Teen Scream Magazine declaring what's popular.

Or at least that's what's fun to imagine him as. What else do you expect when the fickle masses are the base of his logic, rather than anything solid and objective. Probably not far off if he thinks reality bends over to whoever sends in the most text messages.

Wonder what that does for his deity's prayer-answering mechanism. Is he a mindless, amoral vote tallying machine?

If it's not him, ah well, doesn't say much if any mindless cookie-cutter woo can fill his place.

Anyway, places that he's shown up:

So, Does This Make It Official?
Doggerel #111: "Something More"
Doggerel #109: "Controversy"

And just in case he shows up to make an immature stop by here, I'll let him do the maximum damage to himself by not restricting anything in this thread short of attempts at computer hacking.

This thread is hereby WILD!

And You Thought Superman Was a Dick



Via God is Pretend via The Uncredible Hallq

65th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at NeuroLogica.

Open thread as usual, except touching the displays is FORBIDDEN.

Oh, and failure to make me laugh will not be tolerated.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pointless Question #1

Poof! You've got superpowers appropriate to fighting crime and, potentially, Randi's million dollars.

What are you going to wear and drive?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Twoof is Wewative

I've been dueling with a twoofer over at Denialism. Can't exactly call it a debate, since I doubt it'll get into his head that "trusting Bush" isn't anywhere in my stance. I've been meaning to do a post about a key difference between science and woo: Science converges, woo diverges. Science narrows down possibilities to a handful or even just one theory. Woo, however, does the opposite: It diverges, breaking into countless hypotheses, each usually unfalsifiable. 9/11 twoofers are no exception:

R9 Orbital Wave Cannons: These twoofers are generally regarded as the silliest, though I don't quite agree. They do tend to be the most "Hollywood spectacle," though. They're the ones who believe that the finishing blow (or possibly only blow) to the towers was from some giant space laser or other impractical space opera-type superweapon that, for some reason, is never used elsewhere. It's been a while, but I'm sure if you search the JREF Forums, you could find some wonderful takedowns of this hypothesis where they calculated just how much energy, accuracy, and so forth it would take to do this. Someone gave me some points for the R-Type reference when I came up with the appropriately term.

Thermate/ite: Can't quite settle on which substance was responsible, but what they refer to is a powerful incendiary substance that supposedly melted the supports. While this has the advantage of not requiring the loud bangs you would hear in a controlled demolition, most overlook gravity: You can't get the stuff to burn sideways into the support beams. That's probably why no one I met at the JREF forums debating these trolls ever heard of a demolition team using the stuff for taking out supports. The biggest hole in this hypothesis, however, is that it'd require a massive demolitions team working for a lot of time in a building that's almost continuously occupied AND covering up their tracks every day. There's also concern about the stuff remaining stable and not igniting prematurely. Also, they'd have to deal with being able to ignite the stuff after the building has suffered a plane/missile impact that probably stands a strong chance of breaking the electrical circuit for the trigger.

Hushaboom: This is what I consider the silliest crowd, even though some may think they're the more serious type: The crowd that thinks conventional demolition explosives were used. The "hush" part of the boom comes in when some fellow skeptics pointed out the lack of appropriate seismic and audio data, which they'll claim was "muffled" or something equally silly. They may shout that it looks like a controlled demolition, but it sure doesn't sound like one. This pretty much requires that explosives have enough concussive force to take down support beams and yet be weak enough to not be heard. Contrary to what the dramatic glowing red fireballs of Hollywood fame would have you believe, heat and fire are not what makes the typical explosive powerful: It's the wave generated as the expansion of the bomb pushes air out of the way. Some may debate semantics, but air being pushed around in a wave is sound. And yet they expect these bombs to be nearly silent. To add further problems, this one suffers from the same need for invisible man-hours and technical problems as the thermate/ite hypothesis.

Missile/Holographic Plane: There are plenty of no-plane twoofers still out there who think it was missile(s) that hit the WTC and/or Pentagon. The big problem with this is that it requires that all footage be doctored and all the eyewitnesses and people with contradictory footage be wrong / bribed / silenced/ in on it. If the government had planned on doing it this way, wouldn't they have it done it in the dark to be more plausible, and less risky? The way some get around this little problem is to propose that the government developed very, very good holography before any of the industries devoting big research funding to this sort of thing can do anything really comparable. This, of course, would require a lot of setup in advance. Not surprisingly, advocates of this hypothesis will sometimes pull out claims of reverse-engineered Area 51 technology.

Let It Happen On Purpose: What I presume "LIHOP" means. This would require that Bush has direct and absolute control over everyone who could have done something or later bring up his inaction. This one's key advantage and disadvantage is that little or no planning is involved. The disadvantage aspect of it is that you can't easily identify keep the compassionate people out of the situation until something happens. It's more parsimonious than any of the nigh-supernatural hypotheses above, but it's still a hard one to swallow: It still requires a lot of people in on it.

Hire Al-Queda: This is one that I've made up myself, and about the least crazy one I can think of. Curious why I've never met a twoofer who does this one: It only requires a handful of people: The hijackers, a government officer to hire them, and some people to fake Osama's messages and hope that he doesn't deny responsibility. All they need is to exploit existing security holes that the twoofers often like to pretend we don't have, since America's so perfectly secure only we are capable of attacking us.

Now take all those hypotheses and multiply them by the number of supposed ringleaders and motives. Sprinkle in lots of combinations of who was/wasn't in on it.

Sorry I don't have links on hand at the moment. I need to get back to the JREF forums after being away for so long. Imagine it won't be hard to hunt them down, or for my regular readers to do so for me.

So, Does This Make It Official?

Blake's Law has a Wikipedia page.

Here's the original source.

The Nature of Doggerel Part 2: Thought-Stopping Clichés

Yesterday, commenter Wes dropped a phrase he heard that wraps up the idea of "doggerel" so thoroughly, I have to study up on black holes, neutron stars, and other astronomical phenomena to come up with an appropriate metaphor for how compact that phrase makes the meaning: "Thought-Stopping Clichés"

It does a good job of capturing just how I feel about a woo's tactics when he starts spouting doggerel: Woos don't explore. They defend and they shout how powerful their defenses are. When change comes, they throw up verbal brick walls in hopes of deflecting us from the core issue. After we breach a wall and debunk a cherished myth or answer some supposedly unanswerable question, they pretend the attack never happened or that the territory is unimportant. That's the mentality we are up against: The illusion of stability is more important than wonder and mystery.

What's even more annoying is when the woos try to cast themselves as scientists or skeptics and project their attitude on us. It's both hilarious and irritating when a 9/11 twoofer tries to claim that we won't ask 'the hard questions' and drones on about irrelevant (and usually nonexistent) political affiliations, arguments about Bush, rather than the data, science, engineering, etcetera that went into forming the current well-established theory: In short, he was doing everything in his power to avoid asking tough questions and spending all his text on asking easy, meaningless ones.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Curse of Pointless Fun

Pointless Fun may have been banished to the depths of Carceri, but its handiwork remains here on the material plane.

Skywire: Let's see that positive thinking guy from the Royal Bank of Scotland commercial do this.

Frost Bite: Ice Climber made sweet, sweet love to Bionic Commando. And I've got an image to remove from my head, now.

Feed Me!: Annoying not to have Seymour to cart you around. Gotta do it the hard way.

Another chunk of stop motion:

I wanna have a stop motion fight.

Fun with sticky notes:

The Nature of Doggerel

I think now's a good a time as any to talk about what "doggerel" means, since I've recently gotten up to #111. Just what makes a word or phrase worthy of being "doggerel?"

As some have misunderstood, being usable as doggerel doesn't make all instances of use doggerel. I thought "misused, abused, or just plain meaningless" made that clear. Perfectly legitimate words like "wellness," "energy," and "quantum" have legitimate uses. It's not the word itself that counts, it's how it's used.

A large chunk of doggerel entries involve subject changes, also known as red herrings. Woos will often try to cast skeptics in whatever negative light they can find or, more commonly, invent. It's not all that different than political and schoolyard debates where "winning" is determined by who can sling the most irrelevant mud at his opponent. Actually talking about, say, health care reform or budget balancing is boring for the typical member of the public. They need something that can fit on bumper stickers.

One thing I've been seeing more of, lately is the accusation that we're racist/sexist/whatever based on the person whose sloppy logic we're attacking. Are the woos really that stupid? On instance for a while back involved a thread attacking Oprah for supporting "The Secret." Apparently, by woo logic, pointing out the logical absurdities of believing a sloppy, contradiction-filled, ad hocked retread of an old hypothesis and calling a famous black woman stupid for falling for it makes us racist against blacks and sexist against women. The same thing happens with Allison DuBois, where criticizing people with a purely negative impact on society is apparently the root cause of spousal abuse or something. It's really insane. I'm beginning to wonder if anyone even knows what racism and sexism are. Being black and/or female doesn't shield you from criticism. If Oprah were a white man, I seriously doubt we'd change our behavior. Racism and sexism are about treating people differently for being or not being a particular race or sex.

It's because of these playground attitudes that most arguments with woos aren't about the data: They're about us trying to convince them that smearing mud everywhere is not a legitimate debate tactic. They're about us having a regular set of standards while woos argue that their pet hypotheses are special and innately deserve special treatment, exceptions, and double-standards. In short, the woo has "permission" to be racist, irrelevant, cowardly, defeatist, cynical, pessimistic, and so forth in order to avoid discussing what really matters: The truth. Life with woos would be much easier if they were willing to just talk about experimental protocols, statistics, and so on.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Comfort Reading

My bro sent me this article on James Randi. Doesn't have anything I didn't already know about him, but it helps to know that someone in a newspaper can say something positive about him. Bit more of a cooldown.

P.S.: Thank my bro by making a move. I'm thinking of playing at 4,C to separate his stones from each other, but I'm worried it's a trap, given that it's my first game.

5# !fooW

It's that time again. Got foamy thanks to a hit-and-run altie troll. Hopefully the fact that the troll said he wouldn't be back is evidence that he will. But enough about the possibility of me acting out my thing for berserkers. I need to cool down before my chakra goes red, my blood type goes blue, and my skin goes green.

So here's how it goes: Ask me a question, and chances are you'll get a silly answer. If you don't know what to ask, try coming up with a "Who would win in a fight between..." question.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Is Anyone Else Getting This?

I've been getting nothing when I click my "keep digging" things, sometimes. Most other blogs that I've been to that use those haven't been having the problem, though I once had it happen over at Infophilia. It's happened on my laptop and office computer, so I doubt it's computer-specific. It's also appearing on posts where I leave out the [span id="fullpost"] tag.

A bug in Firefox? An html error that shows up and fixes itself? Anyone?

Just checked the June archives and it doesn't work there, either. If there's something wrong with the html, it's not in the front page posts themselves.

UPDATE: Fixed! Thanks, Matt.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

If Only Woo Was Always This Harmless

I don't believe in any of this crap, of course, but I think Tarot's got some good flavor to it. Too bad this doesn't give me the power to strike my enemies with lightning, like in Ogre Battle. Oh, and just to note, I don't think it's completely harmless: Just this particular little rendition of it, and said videogame flavor.

You are The Hermit

Prudence, Caution, Deliberation.

The Hermit points to all things hidden, such as knowledge and inspiration,hidden enemies. The illumination is from within, and retirement from participation in current events.

The Hermit is a card of introspection, analysis and, well, virginity. You do not desire to socialize; the card indicates, instead, a desire for peace and solitude. You prefer to take the time to think, organize, ruminate, take stock. There may be feelings of frustration and discontent but these feelings eventually lead to enlightenment, illumination, clarity.

The Hermit represents a wise, inspirational person, friend, teacher, therapist. This a person who can shine a light on things that were previously mysterious and confusing.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Building a Better Videogame Character

Well, haven't really felt like raking another of my favorite game genres over the coals, but I felt like doing something today. So, I'll present some of my thoughts on designing the characters, rather than game mechanics. Imagine there'll be some disagreement, but no worries.

1. Female leads: They don't have to be naughtily dressed. I don't think sexy is a matter about having a low square yardage in terms of clothing (and don't get me started on chain mail) or even certain body measurements.
Kirk: "Is it… that we're tired... and they're beautiful? They are... incredibly beautiful."
McCoy: "Are they, Jim? Are they actually more lovely, pound for pound, measure for measure... than any other women you've known? Or is it that they just, well... act beautiful?..."

- Kirk and McCoy, on Mudd's Women
2. Please, no more spiky-haired swordsmen for a while. Crono, Cloud, etcetera were cool, but that doesn't mean that you can just borrow their successes so easily. Try something different for the male lead's favored weapon, like a warhammer. Can potentially be used as a puzzle-dungeon solving tool as well as a weapon. Just tossing that out there.

3. Some of us have grown up: I know a lot of games have to appeal to the younger generation, but I'd like to see more full-blown adult leads and fewer teenagers in Japanese games and so forth. It takes out the 'coming of age' aspect of character development, but people still have things to deal with, even after turning 18.

4. Cute sidekicks: Make sure you test them on a large demographic cross section if you can. I just hate it when a 'cute' character turns out to be both annoying and popular. I have thicker skin for annoying characters, but it's also save me the annoyance of other people going on about how annoying they are. Please don't reread that last sentence or this post will go so meta the universe collapses in on itself.

5. Outfits: I'd occasionally like to have my characters wake up in the inn in different sets of clothes. Some games out there are doing something about this issue, thankfully.

6. The white mage: Why is the primary healer always female? Sometime I'd like to see the reverse: The male lead's the healer, and his romantic interest is the warrior-type. Something else that's annoying: Healing never seems to be a part of their identity. Twist on the old 'go to the forbidden place for medicinal herbs' quest: The healer stays behind to do what he can to help the victims. The challenge comes from the party having to endure the herb quest without their main healer.

7. Mute Hero Syndrome: You may have a likable character concept for your silent hero, but you'd better have the supporting actors give us some insight into his personality. Give us something to work with, Otherwise, we're left clueless as to his motivations.

8. Blank Slate Hero: If you're creating a generic character or attempting to let us insert ourselves into the game world, let us make lots and lots of choices to determine the story. If I want to play the bad guy, let me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Building Up Steam, Maybe

Skeptiplomacy is starting to move, again. I'm fixing up Brendan's map, Bourgeois Rage is dinkering with a bit of code, and Joshua has provided a Skeptiplomacy forum, so start signing up. Be sure to bookmark it, because from now on, I'll be focusing the bulk of Skeptiplomacy stuff over there.

Current sections of the forum: Setup (general and software sections), In-Character (The News Reel & The War Room), Other Games (New Concepts & Existing Games), and General Skepticism. Don't be afraid to start new threads, because I don't want to just talk to myself over there.

Apologies for the current spurt of trouble with the forum. Let's hope it's not a regular thing.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Skeptiplomacy: Trying to Re-Rail This Train

Well, it's been a while, and there have been considerable delays and setbacks all over the place, including baldywilson vanishing off the face of the Earth. (I hope he's okay.) Anyway, last time I checked, Brendan had completed a physical map and was having trouble translating it into useful digital media. I'll try my hand at creating a map of my own in the mean time, and if Brendan gets his in, I'll save mine for the next game, if there is one.

Bourgeois Rage (man, it takes me a lot of tries to spell that) is trying his hand at coding and hosting it, and will probably have far more success than I would have. The topic was only brought back up today, so I'm risking jumping the gun.

Anyway, since it's been a long time, I feel I should reintroduce the whole concept:

Diplomacy is a board game that doesn't rely on dice, cards, or any large amount of luck. In the standard game, 7 players take on the role of countries in a battle to control Europe and then some in the early 1900's. All moves are simultaneous, and combat features no randomness. The key skill in the game is your ability to get other players to help you conquer, right up until you backstab 'em. Here's a tutorial.

Brendan's map is designed for 14 players, though I may design one for fewer, depending on how many people I can grab for this game through the disillusionment from the rough and rocky start. The theme for this game is kind of a giant weird mix of various elements in a kind of Jules Verne/steampunk setting featuring a floating continent. Instead of fleets of ships, you'll more likely have fleets of dirigibles, balloons, and biplanes. I'm not going to be too picky about how you describe the military actions of your forces in your propaganda posts. It's all going to be a big, crazy mashup. I was thankfully introduced to Girl Genius recently, and I think some concept borrowing from that would be cool.

Anyway here's where I'll be keeping the list of players. If you signed up before, please reconfirm. For map purposes, it'd be nice to include some names for regions under your control as well as the cities that would function as supply centers. Each nation will start with 6 territories and 3 supply centers. Other stuff that'd be cool: Images for your nation's flag, as well as your army and fleet symbols. A national color would probably come in handy for visual reference as well.


1. Bronze Dog (Bronze)
2. Bob
3. Bourgeois Rage
4. Brendan
5. Infophile (Black & White)
6. Akusai (Purple & Gold)
7. JackalMage
8. Joshua (Electric Blue)
9. Reverend BigDumbChimp
10. GreedyAlgorithm
11. xiangtao
12. Nes

Feel free to ask questions.

UPDATE: Joshua has been kind enough to provide us with a forum of our own.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Doggerel #111: "Something More"

Welcome to a birthday marathon of "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Woos are commonly under the impression that it's impossible to be happy unless you're a woo of some stripe. Some go as far as claiming it's impossible to believe in all the good things in life if you don't believe in the supernatural. This is, of course, ridiculous on the face of it, but that won't stop them from claiming they've got the upper hand on happiness.

This is, of course, a typical subject change. A drunk person may be happier than a sober one, but that doesn't make the drunkard right. Given the inherent inflexibility I see in woos, I don't see much reason to even give them ground in the subject change: In order to support their various hypotheses, they often have to deny the wonder of the universe, the ingenuity of mankind, and a lot of other generally cool stuff.

Quite frankly, I don't see how the "supernatural" is supposed to be better than the natural world. The "supernatural" usually comes with whines that we can never understand it. The natural world has no such limitations.

Doggerel #110: "Cynic"

Welcome to a birthday marathon of "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

We all know how Hollywood and the typical woos like to depict us. They like to think we doubt everyone's intentions, categorically label all psychics/clergy/quacks as conscious frauds, and generally believe that all woo is the result of deliberate deception for the sake of money.

But that's not the case. The typical woo I argue with is a sincere but mistaken believer. They really do believe in whatever nonsense they're touting, not making money off of it, and believe that they're making the world a better place for doing so. The problem is that they didn't use logic to get to their position, and that's what we attack.

What's worse is that woos will commonly resort to cynicism as a defense against our attacks: They'll invent elaborate worldwide conspiracies to explain the lack of evidence in their favor, preemptively assume we'll rig any test with infinite trickery powers, despite any precautions taken against them, and make up elaborate psychobabble to "explain" our motives and claim the evidence isn't important to us, despite repeated demands.

If my personal experience is worth anything, it's the woos who are the biggest cynics out there.

Doggerel #109: "Controversy"

Welcome to a birthday marathon of "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One thing that the media loves is "controversy." It gives them an excuse to put up ratings-friendly loud arguments on TV, and it's something they can continue to draw out. After all, if there's still disagreement, there must be controversy, right?

Wrong. Controversy is not the simple existence of dissenters. If that were the case, one wonders why the media doesn't routinely cover both sides of the controversy of the Earth's shape. For any well-established theory, there will always be denialists if you look hard enough.

Real scientific controversy only exists if two or more opposing hypotheses have roughly equal evidence, posit few, if any, new entities, and so forth. I think we can safely say that a lot of these types of things are ignored by the mainstream media, and more likely occur in peer-reviewed journals. The kind of "controversy" woos do is done in public relations, and usually in a one-sided manner giving next to no time for skeptics.

What's really annoying is that the level of "controversy" is decided by the intensity of the emotions involved, rather than the actual content of the arguments. Usually, this means that if the truth makes people angry, it must be the wrong side. Unless you're a skeptic, in which case, making you angry "proves" that you're wrong.

64th Skeptics' Circle

The Skeptical Alchemist hacked it up to the New Truth University.

Open thread as usual, but since I don't want whiny, cynical, basement-dwelling, tin-foil hatted trolls who can't figure out why hushaboom is even more absurd than orbital R9 wave cannons in this thread, making fun of twoofers is FORBIDDEN!

So is failing to wish me a happy B.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Ghost of Pointless Fun

Well, Pointless Fun was killed last time, but that doesn't mean it can't attack from beyond the grave.

Mostly, though, this one's for something my brother's trying out: Him against the blogosphere in Go. I think he has the advantage, as it's my first game an no one else has shown up, yet.

Anyway, onto other games that don't require masses of fellow bloggers to play, thanks largely again to Nodwick:

Revenge of the Stick: Another tower defense game. The evil oppressed stick figures are marching out into the real world, this time.

Galactic Gravity Golf: Tiger Woods meets the remains of massive collapsed stars.

Orb: Your mouse cursor's got the gravity this time, except you don't want to suck up any objects.

The song that kept Pointless Fun from just passing on:

Picard rocks, the captain's place is on the bridge, but NEVER leave him there by himself.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Multi-Purpose Anti-Theocracy Rant

Well, tomorrow is the day we USAians celebrate our declaration of independence from a king who ruled by divine right over a country where bloody battles were fought over which flavor of religion you believed in, and occasionally executed people for believing in one contrary to the state's current flavor.

Thankfully, all that stuff has gone down a fair bit since those days and I'm generally cool with you UKers. Thanks in advance for my B day present of a season premiere of Doctor Who, by the way. Anyway...

It seems to me that a very large portion of Americans have forgotten the principles we founded this nation on. I almost instinctively typed 'great nation' in that last sentence, but it's been growing increasingly clear that the actual America and my idea of America, the one I was taught about in grade school, are growing ever more distant from each other. One thing I was grateful for: In 5th grade, our class had to do some "what if" scenarios for the Bill of Rights: What if we didn't have them? I don't remember details, but it drove home the point behind the First Amendment, which protects our freedom of speech and religion. In effect, our right to think and express our thoughts: Without that, other freedoms are largely pointless, and much more easily taken away: If we can't argue against the government, our ability to prevent tyranny is crippled.

A theocracy involves an inherent conflict: Every religion I've ever seen demands spreading. Give a person of that religion power over people without that religion, and the nasty side of human nature will inevitably take over. That's why we need to maintain an unbreachable wall of separation, like Thomas Jefferson (You know, one of the founding fathers) wanted. Theocrats are willing to do whatever it takes to spread religion, and that includes suppressing dissent, quietly applying moral relativism to create convenient double-standards, etcetera.

Some theocrats like to obfuscate the meaning of the issue by claiming that freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion. This is utter bullshit. We may not have an amendment for it, but I think it's safe to say we have freedom of hobbies here in the US, right? Do I have a right to NOT collect stamps if I don't feel like it? Do I retain my right not to be forced into a hobby? Do I retain my right to be treated the same as any hobbyist under the law? Does it sound absurd to even ask these questions? If so, I don't see why bringing religion into it changes anything.

Quite frankly, I fail to see how so many fundies can be so blind to the basic logic behind combating tyranny. What's worse is that theocrats are probably blind to simple morality and ethics. I don't particularly care which: I'll oppose the atrocity of theocracy either way.

Doggerel #108: "Artificial"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One thing woos commonly like to do is draw a line between "natural" and "artificial," as if that meant something. When it comes down to things like chemicals, the origin doesn't matter: A thing is a thing, no matter where it came from.

Sometimes, there is, however, a reason to make the distinction. For example, a natural herb versus a pharmaceutical equivalent: Herbs vary wildly, and sometimes don't even contain the sought-after active ingredient. In other cases, the unnecessary bits of the herb may even be harmful. In such a case, the artificial pharmaceutical is superior: We know what we want, and can produce it without having to create all the messy things involved in growing a plant.

The problem with this doggerel isn't with such cases: There's a quantifiable difference between the "natural" and "artificial" forms. The problem arises when two effectively identical things are treated differently based on their origin, rather than their actual differences. The fact that something is made by human beings doesn't matter to the laws of physics, no matter how big our egos (or, sometimes in the case of technophobes, anti-egos) are. If there's something wrong with an artificial version of a product, it's a flaw in human efforts to replicate what unguided nature does. If unguided nature can do it, chances are, being a part of the same natural universe, so can we.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Return of Pointless Fun

You saw the sequel coming, right? They always have those endings in these things, right? Well, despite what our surviving intrepid heroes thought, here comes The Return of Pointless Fun

Bloxorz roxxors my boxxors. (Via Nodwick)

Missile Game 3D: Bullet Bill from a first-person perspective, sort of.

Ring Pass Not: Arrange the tiles properly or else get toasted by the dragon.

Fall Down: Twitch game I thought was a short little little bit of fun. Got a sequel, too, strangely enough. You'll probably get tired of them unless you're the obsessive type.

Gravity Game: Crushing defeat coming your way.

Via Skeptico: The Chasers on The Secret

Sometime I need to see Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Bohemian Rhapsody Trek:

You Maniacs! You Blew it Up! Damn You! FSM Damn You All to Hell!

"Mr. Nimoy, I came as soon as I heard what happened hundreds of years ago! I can't believe your show was banned!" -Phillip J. Fry
Well, thanks to JackalMage, I've been able to watch Firefly. I never watched any of it before, and I only vaguely recall a poster for Serenity, the movie continuation, so I didn't have any preconceptions beyond the fact that a lot of people liked it, and it was supposedly unjustly canceled. If you don't want even the tiniest hint of spoilers, don't click. But if you're okay with just a tiny hint, don't worry: Nothing really meaningful below.

Well, I've quickly grown to agree with the assessment of the cancellation. I wish I could have caught some of the advertising (was there any?) for the show, in which case I may have been involved in some massive effort to protest the canceling or something. Seems that Fox was REALLY determined to cancel everything I liked or would have liked.

I need to see about getting The Tick on DVD. Only saw parts of a couple episodes and I enjoyed that.

Anyway, back to Firefly itself: I never caught a whiff of the western flavor thrown in before I watched the show, and I've got to say I think they did a decent job. Think it matches pretty well, given the flavor of frontier planets and moons and my thoughts on the future. As much as I liked Star Trek, I don't think technology will magic away all our problems. In Firefly, everything stays the same, except they have spaceships, now.

The little things: I like how standard (though probably enhanced in a few ways) guns are still a staple weapon in Firefly. One thing that annoyed me in Star Trek was the occasional "energy weapons don't work" field that left the crew with nothing to fall back on. Just need oxygen to fire a good ol' revolver. And if you're smart, you can include an oxidizer with the explosive. I kind of enjoyed seeing them work their way around that limitation in one episode with "Vera," which leads me to another thing I'd like to see more often in sci-fi: Space scenes are silent. One of the things I've often said in meatspace is that "white space attracts my attention." I'm so used to being overstimulated that I notice a lack of stimuli more than a change in stimuli. If Firefly had space battles, I'd probably want sound, but given the lack of niceties like energy shields, decompression-preventing force fields, I think the lack of space battles and sound is a very good thing: The silence of space is deadly.

I need to see about getting my hands on a Serenity DVD, now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Doggerel #107: "You Just Think You're Smarter Than Everybody Else!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

It's a common complaint woos bring up. Skeptics are arrogant people who won't concede an argument because they can't withstand personal failure. Or so they'd like you to believe. The problem is that woos who argue with skeptics will often go out of their way to avoid even talking about the issue. That's why so many of the entries in the index are subject changes. That includes this one.

One of the difficulties in dealing with arguments is that intelligence is not a guarantee to being right. Perfectly intelligent people are still capable of being perfectly stupid in an argument. This is especially true if they're going for popularity, where any subject change that evokes an emotion can yield a 'zinger'. There's a difference between politics and science. People don't like arrogance, and this defense mechanism can be used against anyone who's gained an advantage in the argument.

The fact that science has been so successful in the world whereas woo has only failure is plenty of reason for science's defenders to feel smart but, of course, that's irrelevant to how the argument turns out. The attitude and emotional state of the person making the argument is irrelevant to the argument itself.