Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pointless Question #19

So, your team of adventurers have gone through a fire cave, an ice cave, an ancient techno-labyrinth, the innards of some weird dungeon-shaped monster, a giant tree with tunnels carved into it, and a crypt filled with undead.

Why couldn't the ancients hide the MacGuffins in some obscure, normal caves?

Do Over! Jedi Edition

You've got a time machine, and you've taken George Lucas hostage. What would you do differently with the Star Wars Trilogies?

Here are some of my initial thoughts:

1. At least have Luke mention Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru once or twice after their deaths. With all the stuff blowing up and lightsaber fights, I can understand being distracted from it, like I was before a little scene in Robot Chicken, but it would be nice to see Luke bring it up at least once in the movies.

2. Dump the whole "Storm Troopers are clones of Boba Fett's 'father'" thing in Episode 2. (And get a better title by the way.) The Fett man was cool because of the Decemberween gift effect: He was cool because we didn't know the man under the mask. His mysterious past was whatever our imaginations could stretch it to be. Or even just assumed to be cooler than anything we really could imagine. Just have the storm troopers be clones of some nameless mercenary, or even just engineered from scratch.

3. Just for one of the elephants in the room: Get a better actor for Anakin. When the "romance" started, I was absolutely convinced Anakin was just playing her like a fiddle to create some kind of false "troubled but cute" image to pull Padme's heart strings. Turns out the actor wasn't acting like a bad actor.

4. Seriously trim down on the Ewoks.

5. For the prequel trilogy in general: Get George to make it very shortly after the original, and make sure he's still balanced by other directors, writers, editors and such. He was a cool guy, but getting protection from editors didn't help.

Doggerel #148: "Universe"

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

This short Doggerel entry falls more into the useless pet peeve category. "Universe" is a word that's been diluted by science fiction and fantasy. Woos with delusions of coming up with a Theory of Everything without resorting to math have probably helped it along. The real meaning of "Universe" is everything. There's only one everything. Because of that dilution, when thinking of combining D&D campaign settings and such doing crossovers, I often have to start using weird words writers have come up with like 'multiverse' and 'omniverse' to describe the whole giant mess.

You can expect later entries on specific uses of 'universe' woos use, since those will generally fall into specific claims.

Doggerel #147: "I Can't Prove it or Disprove It"

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

One of the things woos like to say about anything remotely "supernatural," especially "God," is that questions about it will remain forever because no one can prove it or disprove it. They usually do this by trying to define their favorite thing as being immune to inquiry. Kind of makes you wonder why someone who's already decided argument can go nowhere wastes his time. Of course, woos want to have their cake and eat it, too: They want to argue that something has effects, but make excuses as to why we can't look at those effects to increase our knowledge.

Of course, all us skeptics know the core problem with all this: It's classic shifting of burdens. First, the person making the positive claim has to make it falsifiable: They have to know how they could disprove it if they're wrong. Making a claim of yours unfalsifiable is just showing off closed-mindedness. Second, you don't blindly assume everything you can't disprove is real. Lack of negative evidence alone doesn't make something more plausible. There has to be confirming evidence. Otherwise, we'd be forced to believe in everything, including ideas people haven't defined in meaningful ways, and ideas yet to be dreamed up.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Doggerel #146: "[Famous Scientist] Said...!"

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

If there's a common symptom of being a woo, it's putting authority in the wrong place. When it comes to scientific investigation, you do not put authority in the hands of individual scientists: It's the experimental results, observational data, and reasoning that has the authority. I can really appreciate the Darwins, Newtons, and Einsteins out there who come up with brilliant theories, perform experiments, and collect data that end up changing the way we look at the world, and improve our ability to deal with it. But they're not individually important to the process. If Einstein didn't exist, someone else would likely have come along to work out the math and do the experiments, eventually. It's quality work that our knowledge comes from, not the (very cool, but still replaceable) people who do it.

When I celebrate a scientist, I do it the way some people celebrate sports stars (well, maybe not that fervently). There's nothing religious about it. They're people who discovered cool things, just like some athletes did cool plays. If a scientist fowls up on something else, it's still a mistake. They're human, and they're judged by their performance. Scoring a point in a manner that gets a century worth of replays doesn't make the scientist a god or a prophet. One point does not affect another. Scientists are fallible creatures, just like the rest of us. Don't dwell on what they say. Dwell on what the evidence says.

83rd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant. But apparently I'm FORBIDDEN from clicking over.

Doggerel #145: "We Make Our Own Reality"

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

This entry in the series is a bit of a departure, since this is a silly claim as well as a buzz phrase designed to avoid debate. One of the most common sources of this claim is gross misunderstanding of quantum mechanics, where the woos claim that our observations allow us to choose how the outcome of some event is affected. Of course, this isn't true, since it's not consciousness or desire that affects stuff, it's the inherently active act of observing something that affects it. When you're dealing with very small things like photons and electrons, it doesn't take much to change the outcome.

It seems to me that knowledge would be impossible if reality was so easily molded by people's whims. Woos would never encounter me, just the straw men they invent. I'd never have an excuse to go on a foamy rant. If we created our own realities, I would think we'd all be in our own perfect solipsist worlds, and we'd never interact with each other, and we'd all see different results even if we could witness the same events. Which would kind of make communication pointless. But I don't see that sort of thing happening. The universe looks pretty consistent to me, and I'm not about to languish in solipsism.

The attitude conveyed by this doggerel, though often intended to empower people to feel in control of their lives, quite easily leads to blaming the victim. "You got mugged? Your fault for not keeping a positive attitude, or because you secretly wanted to be mugged." My attitude: The mugger's at fault, and just wishing for less crime in the world isn't going to help. Thinking that you can just wish your life better can quite easily serve to make your motivation ineffective. If you want the world to be a better place, you'll need to do something outside your head. Don't make your own reality, act to change the real world for the better. Just make sure you think things through.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Link Dump of Awesome

Yesterday, all I could do was laugh at the story. PZ had his very own Crowning Moment of Awesome last night, and word spread quickly of the abject stupidity of the Expellers. An update followed. I had to avoid reading anything this morning, since giggle fits tend to attract attention, and I work in the same building as a lot of fundies. I'll be spending my time today catching up on the massive comments in a lot of these entries, since the blogosphere is just filled to the brim with wit from my fellow skeptics, and my brother reports that the trolls have been marinating themselves in weaksauce, today.

Anyway, here's the links as I come across them. Expect the list to update, and feel free to point to your favorites if I missed them.

PZ's daughter reviews the movie. Go, Skatje!

Link love from Orac, Skeptico, Action Skeptics, The Bad Astronomer, Panda's Thumb (Cross-post), Denialism, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Greg Laden, Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes, Memoirs of a Skepchick (With update), Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, Rev. BigDumbChimp (with update), The Barefoot Bum, The Uncredible Hallq, and more to likely come.

And, you can just look at the Technorati thingamjig.

(NSFW) First-hand account.

Whiny apologetics, spin, and lies:

Kevin Miller: Made of weak.

Some guy called Jimmy Everystreet: Full of contradictions and backpedals from the supportive IDiots. I love this comment tearing one of them up:

Stewart, please help me with the process for invitation and expulsion.

First this man was “apparently hustling and bothering several invited attendees, apparently trying to disrupt the viewing or sneak in.”

Then “He didn’t cause a disruption per se; he was kindly escorted out.” The reason for the escort - “It was obvious he was being kicked out by theatre management because he was not invited nor was he on the pre-submitted list.”

How did management know who was invited and who was on the pre-submitted list? Was there a difference between being invited and being on the pre-submitted list? Were people who filled out the online RSVP not actually invited? How did they know they were not invited if they filled out the online RSVP?

You say, “Management then approached the man, asked him if he had a ticket…” So one guy was asked about a ticket, but not his family or Dawkins? Or anyone else? But the RSVP site says IDs will be checked, not have your ticket ready…

So this guy’s family and Dawkins were invited and/or on the pre-submitted list? If not, why were they not kindly escorted out? How did management know that he was crashing, but not know his family and Dawkins were crashing?

Do the producers warn people the RSVP is not the presubmitted list or an invitation? Can we expect more people to be kindly escorted out of future showings?

You would have been better off sticking with the “apparently hustling and bothering several invited attendees, apparently trying to disrupt the viewing or sneak in” story.

Expect me to link to Expelled's inevitable (but apparently very long delayed) spin on things.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


*Snort* Hahaha! Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha hahaha! Ha-ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Haha haha haha! Ha-haaaaah!

-This post has been truncated.-

Cross-Post From Game Development Limbo: Open Rant: What Annoys You

This post was originally published on my Game Development Limbo blog, but I thought I'd open it to a wider audience:

Well, thought I'd make a post that may make commenting easy: Just think of stuff that irritates you in videogames and ramble aimlessly about it.

Some starters:

  • Zelda's love for pushing blocks on ice to cover switches. They can think of better stuff.
  • Metroidvania/Zelda type items you only use once or twice, especially if they're otherwise cool. I would have much rather seen the Spinner from Twilight Princess have much more utility in later areas.
  • Elaborate level/power up rituals: I like customization, but it can be taken way too far, sometimes. Having to do it multiple times for each character each level just wastes my time if you're just doing crap like increasing basic stats and such. If you're going to force customization, do it for abilities we'll be actively using. A new spell or attack that gives us more options give us some visual cues. Passive numbers aren't fun. Akusai had a clever way of expressing how boring that is, compared to gaining new abilities:
  • It's part of what makes Metroid so damn much fun: you run around until you find this new cool thing, and then think "Oh! This new cool thing can help me do something concrete elsewhere!" and not just "Oh. Now I have more numbers that help me to do more numbers to the other numbers.
  • Fake difficulty in all its forms.

Doggerel #144: "Limited"

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

Woos love to pretend that skeptics like us are limited in our thinking. They love to think that we can't entertain new ideas, and that science has halted all its progress. That way, they can make themselves feel heroic when we laugh at their old ideas in a fresh coat of paint.

Of course, as usual, they're quite wrong. Skepticism will lead us anywhere the evidence, the universe itself, will lead us. Quantum mechanics is downright weird to describe, and yet, because of all the evidence we find supporting it, we can accept it. Woos, on the other hand, only seem to accept whatever makes them feel comfortable. Even if they have to misunderstand it to do so.

If woos want to think of themselves as unlimited, I'd have to say that they aren't limited to the evidence, just their imagination. Unfortunately, though, my experience again tells me that the typical woo's imagination is very limited. That's why they use words like "impossible" and treat "invisible" as equivalent to "unexplainable." That's why they use doggerel and failed clichés like "How can you prove photography to a blind man?" Additionally, by divorcing themselves from evidence and reason, they're more or less opening themselves to a big empty fluff of possibilities, rather than concrete, useful probabilities.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pointless Question #18

Why is it that every little medieval town and castle has not one, but two guards who function as greeters instead of doing something useful?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

82nd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes.

Open thread as usual, except suggesting that there's a metaphorical interpretation is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Doggerel #143: "That's Just My Opinion"

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

We've all seen a common troll reaction: In a long thread, filled with references, explanations, chains of logic, and so forth used to back up arguments. In my experience, such things exist almost exclusively in the skeptics' side of the argument, but I digress. Eventually one troll gets sick of arguing over the facts and simply says, "that's just my opinion."

This is, of course, usually an effort to stop all debate, as if you should treat opinions as sacred and beyond questioning. Of course, there's also the difference between a conclusion arrived at through evidence and reasoning and opinion, though the media's done a fair job of covering up that distinction. If you're talking about science, you'll have to deal with the evidence.

You can believe what you want, but that doesn't take away our right to convince people otherwise. If you aren't willing to change your mind when given evidence, and don't want to be criticized for having an opinion, it's probably best that you don't express it among people who will take you to task for it. That's just a suggestion, of course.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Open Thread: A Really Bad Movie

Agony Booth recently posted one of their scathing recaps for Battlefield Earth. I actually saw that movie in the theater, expecting just another sci-fi flick, but oddly enough, I don't recall the first half hour of it, and I'm almost never late to a movie. I wonder if the projectionist mercifully removed a reel or something. The moment I snapped was when the harrier jets showed up. I couldn't look away, wondering if the badness would roll over. It overshot.

Doggerel #142: "Can Science Prove Love?!"

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

Woos love to pretend that they have exclusive province over love, emotion, and other concepts that often have highly disputed definitions. Of course, the fact that we can recognize these things, or at least the definitions we each personally use undermines that claim.

One sickening subplot that annoys me in sci-fi series involves Straw Vulcans incorrectly suspecting one of the humans is attracted to them, complete with alleged humor to be had with resulting miscommunications. Along the way, there's another Straw Vulcan listing 'symptoms' of love, describing the various little bits of biological noise humans do with their eyes, perspiration, heart rate, etcetera. If only love were that easy to measure. A fair number of woos will now proceed to claim that skeptics like me believe it's that simple.

In real life, we perform all sorts of tests to figure out if someone's in love, usually involving predicting behavior. It's essentially a series of uncontrolled case studies, but given that it's hard to perform ethical lab tests on that sort of thing, that's generally okay. If enough of the predictions come true, it becomes reasonable to reach a tentative conclusion. It's on the messier side, but that's pretty much what science does: Use observations and evidence to verify or falsify a hypothesis. Our intuition isn't a magical process.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Doggerel #141: "Technology"

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

A lot of woos out there like to complain about how "technology" is ruining our lives. They don't seem to get any more specific about what they mean "technology." Technology isn't just the stuff you need to plug into a wall to use. Technology is pretty much anything people use. It doesn't matter if we're talking about PSPs or stone knives. It's just a matter of what other technology you need to make it. I don't see any magical cutoff point where one tiny additional step of development makes something inherently bad. (Thanks go to Dunc for suggested improved verbiage)

Worse, a lot of woos don't have any real concept of what life was like before certain inventions. Many alties have no idea how common disease used to be. Some of them would benefit from seeing what life is like in countries without modern health care. Other alties complain about the commonality of cancer, trying to blame some single issue for it. Of course, it's largely thanks to advanced medicine that we can die from cancer much later in life, rather than preventable childhood diseases. I will not be surprised if they switch to complaining about people dying of old age if we manage to discover methods to prevent and cure the various forms of cancer. They will then cite how rare it was for people to die of old age back in 'the good old days' and make stuff up about the ancients knowing immortality secrets.

The issue gets a great deal more complex if you're talking about the social and economic aspects of technological advancement. A lot of woos, however, don't see it that way: They usually posit some golden age when everything was allegedly perfect, everyone read only Shakespeare, and stuff. Being able to communicate and research more quickly is apparently supposed to lower the quality of art for unknown reasons. I could go on about other issues, but that would make for a much longer post.

Still More Expansion

Still looking for more people to sign up for my Game Development Limbo. I always feel paranoid when I don't get comments for a while. That, and sometimes I just really feel like having a casual conversation about gaming in general.

So, if you haven't joined already, you can give me your email address. Just send it here:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ranting, Ranting, Ranting

Well, PZ posted a picture made by a rather pathetic individual. I think I'll agree with some people that "Self-Portrait" would make for a more appropriate caption, since the creator apparently doesn't get out of his bleak gray room very often. Artists should do what they know, and I guess this "artist" doesn't know much at all.

One of the most foam-inducing lines in the person's bigoted screed (partially corrected with Doggerel links):
I don't think Atheists can even believe in love, which is the saddest part.
That's just pathetic. I'd love to beat some people like this over the head with my love for my family and friends. Unfortunately, intricate configurations of neurochemicals probably don't have the inertia necessary to do any damage, either physically, or to their cloistered worldview. What especially galls me about this is that even if we express our love and wonder, they'll just discount it as false because it doesn't come out of the nice, unnecessary packaging of their power structure.

Whether they like it or not, we're real people with real feelings. It's nihilists like this "artist" who sometimes make me wonder if there's anything going on behind the eyes of fundamentalists. Another alternative I wonder about is whether or not fundies are absolutely burning with jealousy. We can speak our mind without fear from a "loving" deity who always seems to take a relativistic stance about the morality of torture. We can have a will to do the right thing without fear of threats or being sidetracked by bribery. Sure, we don't have some magical, mythical comforts they like to fantasize about. But neither do we have anything to inspire complacency, like I so often see in fundies. When they're not doing something obviously immoral, they're usually advocating inaction and apathy. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. These are people who routinely deny the existence of wonders we take for granted, and typically deny that there are any that haven't already been crammed into their tiny, myopic books.

We've got the whole universe, and a planet full of people. They've only got an imaginary, abusive father figure.

Sorry if this rant isn't up to my full foamy standards. I dug up my Beatles: Yellow Submarine CD to play a few repeats of "All You Need is Love".

Thursday, March 06, 2008

State of the Doggerel: March 2008

Well, I've finally gotten the buzz words on equal footing with the cliche phrases. So, any new suggestions, or old suggestions that may bear repeating?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pointless Question #17

One of your ally's key strategic planets has fallen to the evil invading warrior race guys. They sent a fleet of ships and dropped off a million troops to do the job. How the hell did they conquer a whole planet with so little manpower?