Friday, December 28, 2007


I don't know if there's a Glarb or not.

I don't know if we could even understand Glarb if we found one. Glarb is just one of those things so infinite, it defies mortal understanding. After all, if glarbs exist, they'd be flarschnikit and beyond the physical restraints of the universe, just like love and morality are flarschnikit. Since those things are all flarschnikit, they must be related. Aglarbists obviously can't believe in love or morality if they don't believe in Glarb, since they deny anything flarschnikit by extension. That's why everyone should believe in at least one glarb, whether or not any really exist.

If you think about it, there are so many things in this world that are gobatastic, which means they couldn't arise naturally. There's nothing in science that can explain gobatastic features, but scientists insist on researching anyway. Glarbists have mathematically proven that gobatism cannot spontaneously increase without outside assistance. Scientists insist that we define a method of measuring gobatism, but that's really their job, since they're the ones who have to show an increase.

What's really irritating is that aglarbists are so disrespectful towards glarbism, saying it's nothing more than unfalsifiable nonsense and word games, when glarbism has contributed so much to the world, bringing knowledge of the flarschnikit to mankind. Morality is flarschnikit, so it's only natural that we'd be the ones to talk about it, while science should just stick with all the non-flarschnikit material things in world.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coming Attractions

Well, the Decemberween break is over, and we all know the true meaning of it all. Anyway, I've managed to average just a little over a post a day this year, despite gaps in the last couple of months. Anyway, stuff you can look forward to, if I get my stuff together properly:

1. Podcast with my brother. We're mostly going to ramble aimlessly and see if any direction emerges. Going to have an interesting time with editing, since my brother's the sound-oriented one and left his laptop's charger in Austin. We can probably make do with some cheapo free software for the first experimental podcast. I was thinking of doing it on New Year's, but we'll see. We're kind of loose at the moment. You can send me some emails with questions, weird woo websites, or whatever until then. Think we could try doing regular, low-stress, low expectation 10 minute bites after that. Small enough to fit on YouTube with some helpful graphics and visuals, maybe, since I've got my account up and empty. Please bear in mind that I'm keeping your expectations low in the off chance that A) we do this, and B) blow you away if we really, really surpass them.

2. Skeptiplomacy: The setbacks, dropped communications, and outright procrastination have been numerous, but I've got a map mostly done. It may need some suggested tweaks by people who've already played the game, since I'm trying to keep some balance in between nations and the utility of fleets and armies. I can email a copy of the Illustrator files if you contact my inbox.

Here's the email, if it's not obvious enough:

Why You Woos Got to Be Such a Downer, Grrrrrl?

Caution: This post is trying to recapture the foam from one of my classic rants, though the bulk of it spent some time cooling in a .txt file before posting.

Those of you who've followed earlier rants in comments, as well as the original know that I've gotten quite bitter towards a lot of woos over my blogging career. Given the responses from an earlier survey, it seems it's very understandable for my regulars.

Of all the woos out there, I think alties deserve particular ire. These are people who often actively harm people. They have very low standards for what they'll use, and yet the very high standards we demand of the FDA don't meet with their approval, and when we tell them to raise their standards even a little bit, they reply with a rant about why they, in their hubris, should be allowed to ignore epistemology, the scientific method, and so forth. And these people essentially demand the right to experiment on humans willy-nilly, without basic protocols. Even if the woo is one of the types that has little or no effect, that kind of attitude is scary. What it amounts to is they're asking for us to return to the pre-FDA days when anyone could sell alcohol, poison, or useless/harmful gadgetry as panaceas. Real medicine isn't perfect, but it's much more preferable to those times. What really tears it is that these people openly exploit desperation of the terminally ill or chronically suffering by suggesting their 'treatments' under said sloppy experimental conditions because they can ask one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language: "what's the harm?" The best way to describe it: "Since we don't know what will work, throw money at me so that I can experiment in a manner that even if this unproven or even debunked and harmful idea works, it'll still be unproven because we made sure we were sloppy." It's as if they think they have the right to treat people's lives as playthings.

Next on the list are the cdesign proponentists who pose a more insidious threat. They want us to throw science standards out of education to allow their particular brand of woo in. This is attacking the one place where we can help the most: Children. Indoctrination is a very difficult thing to overcome. If we can teach children to rely on evidence, and not arbitrary authority, religion will not have so much gullibility to latch onto. IDiots invent false controversy, and thus try to elevate their pre-scientific concepts as equals to everything the evidence has taught us. The last time I checked, "Intelligent Design" has failed to even specify what sorts of evidence would prove or disprove their "hypothesis". They often have to cover that up by making false appeals to emotion, claiming that Darwin endorsed eugenics (which he didn't) or that eugenics fan Hitler endorsed evolution (which he didn't). Not that it particularly matters. Hitler also believed in gravity. In addition to those overt lies, they have to include straw men like evolution being "random". I'm getting to the point that if a Creationist makes any of the usual claims about randomness and chance, I'll just assume they made a conscious decision to lie. Many similar lies are included about the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution which have little to do with any actual weaknesses (which we should leave to the scientists who actually study the stuff to iron out and detail for us, rather than making 150-year-old presumptions that were addressed long, long ago).

Next up are the various "psychics": People who'd be ripe for the JREF Paranormal Challenge right off the bat. A very large chunk of them deal directly with those grieving over death. The psychic "detectives", who just generally aren't very helpful, and the mediums, who spout uninformative plattitudes once they've fished out a few details. The Queen of Particularly Evil Psychics, Sylvia Browne, plays a bit of both. So far, she doesn't exactly have a good record on the detective front. James Randi challenged her long ago to work the JREF Challenge, and she's still a no-show. The corresponding King of Particular Evil Psychics happens to hold the title of The Biggest Douche in the Universe, and for good reason: All he does are typical cold reading tricks and the like. When you play games like that with people's memories, you can cause great harm to those memories. On the telekinesis side, you've got people like Uri Geller doing cheap magician tricks and winning gullible followers. Of course, if anyone disagrees with my assessment, they should probably get one of them to pass the challenge. It's out in the open.

Next: Conspiracy theorists. It's not at all uncommon for any kind of woo to quickly fall into this. These people exist to make excuses for failure, whether it's personal failure, the failure of their favorite woo, or just the general nastiness that exists in the world. These people exist to defy Occam's Razor. If there's a simple physical explanation for something, you can count on them to create 20 rival Illuminati sects covering everything up so that it just looks like the laws of physics work. Oddly, these magical sects can still operate in secrecy in highly advanced nations during the information age.

Final category for the time being: The 'magitek' crowd, coming up with devices that allegedly break the laws of physics. Cold fusion's had a lot of history, and perpetual motion even moreso. Technology's given us a lot of nifty stuff, but the key difference between real technology and the woo stuff is that real technology works. The woo stuff doesn't. It'd be really nifty if the laws of thermodynamics can be overturned on more than the microscopic level (and reliably), but if you can't get 'em running, I won't be investing. Everyone else who invested in those promises lost their money. Give me a damn good reason why your gizmo stands any better of a chance.

Now, on to general ranting: What woos all have in common is that they won't subject themselves to reasonable tests. They're perfectly fine with everyone else in the world giving a care about actually testing whether or not they're helping, but they refuse to do the same. Scientists actually care whether or not they're doing the right thing, and they're open to inquiry relevant to that question. Unlike a woo, a scientist is capable of admitting he might be wrong, or that he made a mistake. Naturally, there's some ego to resist the necessary humility, but that's natural. Woos, despite bringing that up for scientists never display that. It's always "I know what I saw!" or something equivalent that presumes infallibility of personal experience. Or of personal anything.

Because of that, whenever I see a hit-and-run woo troll spouting stock lines about arrogance, I keep mentally translating it as "You're an arrogant skeptic to think an infallible being like myself could be wrong!"

As a skeptic, I could be wrong, and there could be a fairy under every garden (evidence, please. Really. Please). It'd be really cool, but unlike in television, cool does not equal plausible.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Over the F^&king Edge

I just got done with a rant about homeopaths, and now I find out about this. The gloves are off! This is a "WILD THREAD!" before it even gets down to the comments. Don't click below the fold if you're uptight about language. (Original source)


What the fuck is wrong with the world? What kind of shit is this?! A gun can at least plausibly be accredited to accidental discharge: One accidental flick of the finger or badly-timed tensing of the hand could send a lethal velocity bit of metal in someone's direction. I may not know much about knife fighting, but it seems to me to kill someone with a knife, you have to maintain a grip and put some fucking muscle into swinging it. It's not easy to accidentally stab someone. If you can't put it in your head that lashing out at someone with a sharp piece of metal has potentially lethal consequences, you do not belong in society. At the very least, this guy's sentence should be measured in fucking decades.

The fact that alcohol enters into it just makes things worse. I'm not against some moderate drinking to relax you, loosen up, or whatever you non-teetotalers do, but drinking to the point that you can fucking forget that swinging sharp pieces of metal can kill? I'd certainly like to know if this guy had previous experience with being a mean drunk, because that would make him even more culpable for choosing to imbibe something in quantities that makes him irate.

The fact that York got abusive before the incident just fills me to the brim with skepticism about the self-defense plea. I may normally be quite squeamish about the death penalty, but if a proper judge had given him the death penalty (that's not available in Australia, is it?), I would strain to find a reason to complain right now.

Homeopathic Foam

I've been getting particularly irritated by some homeopaths that showed up at Orac's place. Don't be surprised if I post a !fooW entry soon in an effort to cool down with humor. For the time being, I'm going to take my self-censorship down a notch in order to more effectively convey my disgust.

It really burns me up when someone suggests trying a treatment myself. I don't have the hubris necessary to presume I'm unbiased. When someone asks me to make a medical determination for myself, based off a personal trial, they're presuming that I'm as arrogant as they are. We have double-blind control studies for a reason, people: They're designed to eliminate bias! Do you honestly suggest that sloppiness, dumb luck, and deliberately maintained personal bias are necessary parts of research? If so, I can see why post-modernism is so popular among woos: Post-modernism applied to science means never having to say you were wrong.

Science requires us to know how we could be proven wrong. A high-quality study showing a homeopathic effect would do that for me. State the effect of a homeopathic "remedy" to be studied. Get a large number of people, give half a placebo, and give the other half the treatment being studied. Make sure neither the people getting the pill nor the people handing out the pills know which is which. Produce a significant difference between the two groups: Show me that the stated effect shows up more often in the real deal than in the placebo. Lather, rinse, and repeat a couple times in independent labs a couple times for good measure. That's pretty much all I'm asking for. I wouldn't trust a pharmaceutical that went through anything less, and yet homeopaths ask that I drop that standard specifically for them. Sorry, but I'm not going to give one faceless corporation any special treatment over any other faceless corporation. They all have to meet the same high standards before I'll subject my body and wallet to their stuff.

I've just imagined a scene that summarizes my thoughts when an altie asks me to try it myself: Imagine an honest senator (I know it's hard, but bear with me) being asked by a corporate lobbyist to grant his particular company exemption from all accounting and product testing standards. Said lobbyist offers nothing in exchange, and no reason why the suggestion would support the people's interests.

That's one reason I tend to see Big Altie as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. They ask that the "law" of science not apply to them. They ask for more and more concessions, never meeting any of the demands the rest of the world has to live up to.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quote of the Time Being #15

"Religion is just an excuse. Religion allows you to say "I'm not greedy--God wants me to do this." - Anon

Monday, December 10, 2007

In the Dog House #2: Virtual Boy Done Right?

It's been a long time since I posted the first of these entries, but here goes:

I think one of Nintendo's greatest failures might be able to succeed today, if it's done right: The Virtual Boy. I actually have one. (At the time, I was thinking about collecting Nintendo failures to evaluate them for myself) I got it several years ago in exchange for a stack of mediocre Magic: The Gathering cards. Got it with Mario Tennis and Telero Boxer. I kind of liked the latter, even though it's a pretty short game.

Problems with the system were myriad, and a lot of them are accurately covered into the linked Wikipedia entry, and here's some ideas, observations, and so forth to hopefully deal with them:

1. Portability. The VB most definitely suffered from a lack of portability, but given miniaturization since then, I think many issues can be dealt with. Since the VB got so many aspects of portability wrong, though, this requires a fair bit of discussion for some of the people who don't know the extensive nature of the wrongness.

a. Weight: The VB weighed as much as a brick. That, combined with its sheer bulk cuts deeply into how easily you could move it about. Up-to-date technology would make a better version easier.

b. Parts: You had the big eye part, the controller, the power supply (more on that, later), the stand, and appropriate wires. If I were to redesign the thing, it'd probably have a decent battery built in and a small wireless controller you could snap on somewhere for portability and recharging its battery. A charger cord would be available, but it'd be optional during gameplay.

c. The stand: The stand that came with the VB couldn't be adjusted vertically, which left me searching for a surface/chair combo that got it right for me. I'd replace that cursed thing with a strap to keep it on your head, like all the other virtual reality things were supposed to be like during that craze. Include some testing to maximize the number of heads it can fit on via adjustments.

2. Lack of social gaming: Two video outputs built for one person's set of two eyes. That was it. "Hey, I'm fighting the last boss, and winning!" "If you say so." I think the best solutions for that would be online multiplayer and some TV connection that'd let other players view the game world.

3. Controller issues: Some people thought the VB controller was weird, having two directional pads, and a pair of underside buttons. One idea I have in mind for my hypothetical improvement: Have Wiimotes as the controller, and see about including motion sensing as a part of the system. Problem with this is that it could lead to 'kitchen sinking' the whole thing, and adding all that weight I don't want back onto the system.

So, anyone else have ideas or Virtual Boy trauma to share?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

75th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Pro-Science.

Open thread as usual, except calling milk chocolate M&Ms 'plain' is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sorry for the Silence

You know how meatspace goes at times. I've had some work piling up, some reassembly of my computer at work, my brother visiting over the holidays (and soon some more), and so on, so what I thought would be a relatively calm period has been pretty lively in meatspace.

Extra apologies for my GM (again) for not being around to continue my part of the game. I hope to get back to full activity tomorrow, or maybe even tonight.