Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pointless Question #30

Why is it that when you're going into bullet time, there's ALWAYS a slow-mo hummingbird nearby to drill it in your head just how awesomely fast you're going?

Yet Another Sign

You know that movie Scanners, where that guy's head explodes for some reason or another? I think mine's about to do the same out of rage. That's why I'm trying to phrase this post calmly. Link to PZ.

I'd better be hearing about some candidates denouncing this thing. Until then, this thread is wild. As long as it's on topic, you can say anything.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Off-Topic Annoyance

Just reporting an annoyance from meatspace that doesn't have much to do with anything I normally post about.

Earlier this week, I stopped by the local Sonic Drive-in. The waitress came up to my car and handed me my chicken strip basket (in a box), "Here you go, babe." I let out a reflexive thanks before the oddity sank in. "Here's your receipt, hun."

I've managed to improve my appearance thanks to clearing up my skin with modern medical science, but I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that she was flirting with some random customer she barely had time to get a look at. Now, I'm pretty casual most of the time, but "babe" is crossing the line into attempted intimacy. "Hun" is a bit more acceptable here in the deep south since we're oh so warm with the southern hospitality, allegedly. Anyway, it's just annoying when an employee doesn't know how to address the customer. I don't insist on 'sir', but I do have a limit on familiarity.

(Note for any of you yankees who end up here in this pit: "Ma'am" is regarded as the female equivalent of "sir" and nothing more.)

94th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Reduce to Common Sense.

Open thread as usual, but making fun of people for only winning bronze medals is FORBIDDEN!

Help, Superman!

Orac presented us with a particularly demented Chick Tract. Well, I don't read much of the series, so I can't really know if it's particularly demented or a representative sample. Anyway, it appears Chick believes in vampires.

I got hit with a bit of fridge logic after reading it, thinking about the bit where the girl knocks back Igor with magic incantations of Jesus's name. Isn't Jesus, really being his daddy as well, supposed to be everywhere and see everything? Then why does anyone need to bother invoking his spirit? Wouldn't vampires have gone extinct from getting knocked away from their victims and die (again?) of thirst? It's the old problem of evil, where Superman is clearly a dick, but this one kind of got glossed over because Chick occultism treats the whole thing like older forms of mysticism that live on like D&D spells. I guess Chick just thinks of his stuff as having a different 'power source' rather than being fundamentally different. Then again, maybe it's a game balance issue.

Suppose the power source thing would account for what looks to me like Red Team/Blue Team morality among fundies: Anything is permissible as long as it benefits their team.

If I had superpowers and the ability to help anyone, anywhere, I wouldn't bother waiting to hear the rescuee call out my name.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Under the Microscope: Into the Unknown With Josh Bernstein: Noah's Ark

Well, I'm getting up my nerve. The last time I reviewed a program in depth like I'm about to do here, it was that Crystal Skulls thing. I hate network decay, and I've been seeing a lot more of it. Might be me paying more attention as a skeptical blogger and occasional geekdom commenter. Having a couple hours of Star Trek: TNG cut out in favor of wrestling on Sci Fi is one thing. But having deep, deep woo on the Discovery and History channels is another. That's what this show is shaping up to, just based on the description. Drop me reminders to complain in their feedback sections.

So, firing up my DVR. Deep breaths...

Okay, weird ending clip of the show before with a black woman talking about washing out some white dress as if it were possessed. Wonder what that was about. Apparently the BBC made that show, whatever it was.

Anyway, onto the show proper. Josh starts introducing himself and showing off where he'll be going on the show. Fair bit of extreme editing I'm a bit sensitive to right now. Probably would let it pass elsewhere, but I just know this is going to be a carnival of lame. Presented by Chevy. Ugh.

Location: Armenia, mountains of Ararat, where the ark supposedly landed. Drama bomb editing as they summarize the tall, tall tail. "But is it all true?" I think us rational people can agree on an answer. Josh starts with dividing up the aspects of the story, possibly to make convenient chunks of show: The ark, the flood, Noah, and the animals. I wonder if he's going to quote some old bogus math that's going to be described as the 'new theory' mentioned in the show description.

Talks about the flood wiping out all civilization, thus "making the ark the only connection between us and the pre-flood world." Uh, shouldn't he have started with pointing out how ridiculous the whole worldwide flood thing is, thus negating the need to look for the ark? Oh, wait, padding. Right.

Talks about how high a rank the ark has with the other magic artifacts Indiana Jones found. Talks about all the claims being made and the lack of evidence. Mentions he's got the exception with some Cathedral with some guy claiming to have an actual piece. Right. We've never heard that one before. And you can carpet Deep Space 9 with all the True Shouds of the Sword of Kahless, from what I hear.

Church is old, yeah. Back has a bunch of relics in back. Fancy gold case for the piece of wood. Allegedly a bishop found it. Tried climbing to the top of the mountain. Fell asleep. Had a dream of Sky Daddy telling him he won't make it to the top, but his efforts will be rewarded with a piece of the ark. He woke up with a piece of wood under his head. Much more likely story: He gave up, grabbed some random piece of wood and made the dream up.

I've got it paused. My guess: Josh will try to sate us skeptics by expressing doubt and then proceed on as if the authenticity was proven. *Play...* Mention of other people finding pieces. Asking how he knows. Priest says faith. Josh claims he respects that in appeaser mode and then claims to be a man of science and mentions carbon dating. Priest refuses, citing faith as the basis.

Moving onto looking for other evidence. Request to carbon date the wood is tied up. Whole thing was as pointless as asking some random yokel about his piece. Of course, he's probably banking on the beliebers accepting the authority of the guy because he wears a fancy dress, works in a fancy building, and has a fancy set of display cases. Of course, even if he did find the right date with carbon dating, that wouldn't exactly be meaningful, since one would think there'd be plenty of other wooden objects around that time.

Drama bomb as they talk about the rain and flood. "Leading archaeologist" is mentioned with a "radical new theory," usually meaning a crank with a recycled chunk of blatant assertions. Sean Kingsley. Doctorate from Oxford, to throw out big credentials from a big name. Some mention of new evidence he's found but doesn't yet describe. Says the flood was earlier than thought, in the stone age. Oldest story, talks about the Epic of Gilgamesh. Says the two stories are based on the same person from Neolithic. Says it's not rain, but geological event. Says the top of a mountain fell into the Mediterranian, causing a tsunami and limited flood. Mount Etna. Active volcano. I'm no geologist, but this sounds like a tall tale, and a little beyond an archaeologist's usual fare.

Commercials. One featuring a guy doing 'offroad unicycling' which looks kind of fun.

Back to the tsunami, going to Mount Etna, which is apparently quite active. Got a volcanologist involved named Sonja. Hope she's sensibile. Buildup of layers of lava until the weight causes a landslide. Apparently a big one 8,000 years ago. Apparently having one really big landslide is good enough for him to think it'd cause a sufficiently big tsunami, since he isn't talking about how it'd get to the water. All the stuff they showed was dry land. I hope I hear qualifiers when I press play again. Moving onto talking about how the flood story talked about a global flood. Somehow, he's now talking about a "Manhattan-sized" landslide. Uh, wouldn't you measure it in tons, rather than area? You can plug tons into physics equations.

Geologist Maria. Room full of monitors. 130 foot high tsunami with their numbers, whatever they are. Mentions Atlit Yam, an old Neolithic settlement that's underwater, now. Assuming they're just being very bad communicators about how the landslide gets dumped into the water to form the tsunami, I suppose this isn't unreasonable. Of course, this hardly proves Noah's flood anymore than finding a tall woodcutter named Paul Bunyan proves the Rockies were formed by a wrestling match between a giant lumberjack and equally large blue ox.

I'm getting cake. Commercials are good for that. Old spice commercials by that pretend doctor. Is that Doogie Howser grown up or something? "Brought to you by TomTom." I think I'll stick with borrowing my dad's GPS.

Back to bludgeoning us with "oldest story." General description of the city, underwater because sea levels rose 30 feet since then. Evidence they're looking for to prove destruction by tsunami: wrecked buildings and broken human bones. The former sounds sufficiently vague. Mentions that a tsunami wouldn't have damaged a well. Found a bone. Not human. Found some stones they claim to be a stone age temple. Drama editing makes it hard for me to see them as anything more than a vaguely circular arrangement of rocks, and I wasn't even able to get a good look at how circular.

More commercials. Seeing some race car driver with an antagonistic relationship with a talking koala eating Little Debbie products.

Past the halfway mark. Recaps after every commercial is getting annoying. Come on, camera guys, give us a good shot of the whole semi-circle, not drifting closeups. Mention of the guy he's with already having two skeletons he dug up. Doing the jigsaw work of putting bones back together. Anthropologists say all the skeletons so far were raised from graves and the ones focused on died of natural causes. No evidence for tsunami deaths. So, naturally, they get them to say that it's still possible a tsunami happened and they haven't found evidence, yet. Technically true, but I just know someone's going to treat that as probable. Says he knew it'd be hard to find evidence and talks about "interpretation." Pre-commercial teaser apparently suggesting the animal bone he found is going to be a big deal.

More commercials. Wish that cake didn't top off my stomach. I could use another piece.

Now talking about the tsunami as if he's established it as fact. No, he found evidence for an already known landslide. Onto the animal bone and talk about the animals allegedly on the ark. Lower leg of an auroch, now extinct ancestor of the cow. Now talking about how his story is so different from Noah's flood, and going towards Gilgamesh, which had a farm animal slant. Now going on whether Noah could have built the ark. Island of Cyprus built animal transport boats. They go there to look at a stone age well with animal bones in it. Food scraps, apparently. Yeah... building boats for animals is just so amazing evidence for the flood story. My mind wandered for a bit, and I don't feel like rewinding. Teaser about some guy claiming to have found Noah and some kind of good evidence.

Commercials. About 7 minutes to go. Thank Ammy.

Saying Noah's stone age, from Alit Yam, and located some distance away from that, now. Our "archaeologist" bashes the Hollywood Noah, describing his version as a shaman who told the story of how he survived the tsunami Josh admits he's found no evidence for. Talk about shaman head sculptures made of skulls with plaster faces. Talk of shaman rituals doing the same thing with plaster human faces put on skulls. Misuse of "theory" to finally reject this guy's crap as "just a theory" and goes on to say he "appreciates that [Sean] believes Noah was a real person..." and other appeaser crap. Just horrible. At least the crank is not stupid enough to believe the Genesis version and say so bluntly.

So, his wrap-up: Yeah, amazing discovery that people could transport animals by boat. Says he found evidence of the tsunami from the landslide, though I missed that. I'll rewind to that part to make sure. And he jumps to a quote that's gotten very easy to abuse. He should read about the Modus Tollens Exception.

Heading back to that landslide-tsunami link... Okay. I missed the volcanologist saying it went into the sea. But given that he didn't find evidence of the tsunami else where, apparently it wasn't as big as the simulation said.

Can't recall ever hearing about this Josh Bernstein guy before. He's got a lot of things in common with woos, but he ultimately ended up rejecting the whole thing, which was surprising. If he claims to be a skeptic, he's the most craptacular one I've ever seen.

Some Good Done in the World

Thanks to Possummamma. I'm now shocked I didn't have her in my blog roll until now. Think I may borrow a part of her comment policy and disallow anonymous anonymous comments, directing people to the "other" option, so that I'm not talking about anonny 1 and anonny 2.

Anyway, came to that post thanks to Bing at Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes, so hat tip.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GDL: Looking for Codery Types

Well, King of Ferrets wants me to get on the stick with actually making some stuff for UP: Bronze Dog's Untitled Platformer. (I'm thinking of making that the official title, since I suck at titles.) I'll be needing some help either finding some appropriate game maker, or some of you code monkeys with game design experience to help get me to the phase where I can just draw levels, write out plot scripts, and other things. If you're not already signed up for GDL, you can send a request to my gmail address.

Cake and Grief Counseling

Oh no! Someone cut the cake! I told them not to, but if you hurry back here there might be some left.

Anyway, this cake is great. It's so delicious and moist.

Had a hard time lifting my piece and transporting it to my plate, it's so moist.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

GDL: Master Documents

I've been keeping pretty busy over at GDL. I've now made a number of "Master Documents" that are essentially consolidations of important concepts in my Untitled Platformer and moved them back in time so they have the month of January all to themselves. The purpose of all this is to make it more friendly to newcomers and some of you who might have been overwhelmed by my glut of random output that mostly just modified what came before. It also saves King of Ferret's posts from getting pushed off the front page while my brain's on fire.

Anyway, if you haven't been there in a while, stop by and leave comments.

Well, I'm Outraged

Just got back from my grandmother's funeral. Now, many of you have probably inferred that I believe religion has no place in the world. I would like to revise that: Religion has no place in the world. Especially not at funerals.

Some of you are probably formulating a lot of guesses as to which angle I'm going to move at. No, Fred Phelps didn't show up (Though it would have been in his character for my grandfather's: Marine). No, I'm not going deep into one of the familiar comments about the afterlife being escapism. It's true it's escapism. It'd be nice to know we get a few 1-Ups, but there's still no evidence. That's all I'm saying on that aspect for now.

The real fucking outrage is that my grandmother was a footnote for most of the funeral. At the burial site, the reverend went on about how we don't see everything, generic metaphors about the ocean and the horizon and crap like that. After the procession moved to the church, she picked up on the evangelism, and repeatedly mentioned how some positive trait my grandmother had reminded her of Jesus. She kept doing it, one of the last ones ended up provoking an audible annoyed sigh from me. Only thing that otherwise kept me quiet was that I didn't want to make social pariahs of my parents. (To all the atheists out there who can out themselves in meatspace, kudos. I still need more time.) At least I minimized the motions I went through. I didn't sing any of the pointless hymns. I didn't recite the Psalm that the reverend said reminded her of my grandmother's love of science, which struck me less as "look at all the nifty things our deity made" and more "Oh, lord, who art so big." Listen, yes, Batman is awesome. But if by some chance, I'm the one speaking at your funeral, you won't hear me going on and on about him. He's not the dear friend in the casket we're all going to miss.

The part where I really had to bite my tongue was when she said she could listen to her stories all day. So shut the fuck up and get someone to tell us a couple of her stories! She apparently had one of the genealogy-related books my grandmother wrote about the people the various local streets are named after and some of their amusing tales. I need to read the series, sometime. She had it right in her hands. Here's another idea: Get some of her friends and family who won't treat this like an Amway session to go up and share some memories. A funeral is about sharing and remembering the positive impact a person had on all our lives.

Instead, the whole first two-thirds was wasted on very tangentally related hymns, Bible passages, and so forth. That's what I found the saddest part of the day: My grandmother's funeral was shaping up to be a paint-by-numbers affair. Eventually, she got around to covering some of my grandmother's various accomplishments: Two master's degrees, certification in respiratory care, English teacher, writer, genealogy buff. More of that was needed.

After we listened to some overbearing woman singing the Lord's Prayer (very good voice, but she put too much force into it), everyone got up and started working their way back. One of the many people I didn't recognize came up to my parents and said, "I remember once when she taught high school English, she promised her students that if everyone passed, she would get up onto her desk and dance. She did."

THAT is the sort of thing I want to hear about at a funeral.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Already Spinning

My grandmother hasn't even been buried yet, and I can tell she's already spinning about this. The world is too wonderful a place to reject. Science is about getting into the "guts" of reality and finding out how it adds up. The deeper we go, the more wonderful surprises we find. She may have kept some bits of her religion, but every time I brought up a topic in the news, she'd leap right to the side of science and against the fundies.

A lot of my posts have been openly angry with fundies. I'm from a wired generation, so I probably encounter far more. I get angry over fundie endorsements of complete moral relativism. I get angry when fundies get caught in wrongdoing and get a public free pass for being "people of faith." I get angry when fundies repeat century old lies and pretend they never heard the rebuttals by the time they've moved onto trolling the next thread or forum. I get angry when fundies try to teach the same lack of values to their children.

My grandmother was a bit different. When she talked about them, it was always with a tone of bewilderment and pity. The facts of evolution, a round Earth, heliocentrism, the moon landing, and the human body were just realities to be accepted. It was incomprehensible to her that someone could put in so much effort into ignoring the evidence of the world around them. Even more so that someone would want to put in that effort.

That's how I hope to remember her: A champion of science who wanted scientific thought to be taken for granted in people. Someone who wanted skepticism and rationality to be as natural as buckling your seat belt.

Bad News

My grandmother died last night from natural causes. She lasted as long as she did thanks to modern medical science. I would definitely place her as one of the early influences that led me to becoming the scientifically minded blogger I am today. She studied botany and biology in college during days when fewer people took women seriously in science.

So, I leave you with some of her words that express an attitude of mine so eloquently:
I know a man who won't look up at the sky at night because "they're trying to trick us." I can't imagine going through life like that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gaming Thread: Bosses

One of the things that I find really defines a lot of games: Boss battles. After you've gone through the trouble of storming the castle, taking down the seemingly endless waves of cannon fodder, and jumping through all the bladed, flaming hoops, you'd better have the experience capped off with a memorable showdown with the local Big Bad... Though those first parts sound pretty awesome themselves.

But anyway, few things can sour my mood faster than an anticlimactic boss battle. (I'm looking at YOU, Gradius!) So, readers, what do you love and hate about boss battles? Here's some of my thoughts:

Big Peeve #1: Playing Tennis with the Boss: You know, where he fires some shot at you, you bounce it back, and so on until it hits him and renders him vulnerable. The first time I did it in Zelda: Link to the Past, I thought it was innovative. Now it's just tedious.

Big Peeve #2: Bullfight Boss: Only works for intro bosses who are obviously nonsentient. If the Magnificent Bastard Chessmaster final boss drops to this animal intelligence when he charges around all scaled up in dragon form, it kind of ruins my suspension of disbelief.

Bonus Point #1: Make me hate the boss. Emotional investment in defeating him tends to help me out for some reason.

Bonus Point #2: If you can successfully fool me with a "He was Right There All Along," you're doing something right.

Ablative Bosses: Don't know if there's a TV Tropes entry for this: Essentially bosses that peel off in layers as you fight them, changing in attack ability. I like the idea, especially for shmups.

Sequential Boss: This is one tradition that stuck and one that I hope stays stuck in regards to final bosses.

Tragic Monster: Very helpful for getting Bonus Point #1. Responsible for about 99% of my ability to beat the regular final boss rush in Cave Story.

Puzzle Bosses: As long as you put some thought into the puzzle bit. I like thinking my way through a battle.

Colossus Climb: I loved Shadow of the Colossus. Think I could have used some more active efforts at being knocked off, though.

Wake Up Call Boss: Set the tone fairly early, so that I'm not caught by surprise later.

Quote of the Time Being #20

Another gem in that thread, this time by BobC:

"Anyone who believes in heaven is an idiot. Anyone who believes in hell is an asshole."

Summarizes my view pretty well, though I would use far, far stronger language than 'asshole.'

Can't Believe I Missed This

Well, PZ's got a post up that ended up getting a comment from some guy named harv who managed to make a point I somehow never thought of. I suppose given that Christianity is so messed up, I can't be expected to tally up every way in which it's fractally wrong. It's kind of a big argument against the purpose of evangelism.

For those who didn't click over to read, here's the gist of it: If people who've never heard of Christianity are given a free pass (not applicable to all fundies, obviously, since there are plenty just happy to condemn those people to purposeless eternal torture), wouldn't that be a good reason to not evangelize? If that's the case, wouldn't God set up the whole crazy blood sacrifice thing to occur in obscurity?

If you're going to argue that Christianity contributes positively by making more people pass the alleged moral bar who wouldn't normally do so, well, you've got a lot of work ahead of you, since I don't see it. Every alleged good thing about Christianity is easily done without supernatural hullabaloo. Quite frankly, I tend to see the modern not-psychotic Christians as a result of "corruption" by secular values. Without the secularism of the enlightenment, I would think Christendumb would remain nasty with inquisitions and war on a routine basis. I've been reading something of an abridged Bible, and there is a LOT of bloodshed that strikes me as completely pointless. And yet, it's written as if I should be cheering on the winner.

Anyway, I'm kind of drifting off the point there: If ignorance of Christianity lets people get into heaven on morality alone, I think that'd make for a good reason to refrain from evangelism. I suppose that'd be a good way to rub it in the stone idol's face by getting people in despite putting in the arbitrary, amoral second hoop.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Post Folds

For those wondering how I do the expandable posts, here's the place I used. Thanks go to Dikkii for showing me the directions, since I couldn't find it when I needed to recreate it for GDL. Hopefully King of Ferrets won't feel so buried by me, now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gaming Thread: Gimmicks

Another general gaming thread over here. I always love it when a game has some innovative mechanic, clever application of an idea, and so forth. It's kind of hard to define exactly what I mean. Some examples:

Bionic Commando: I picked up BC Rearmed for PS3 today, which is essentially a 3D remake with some tweaks. (Love the dialogue they've put in, making fun of some of the silly bits from the original.) Currently having trouble at the Albatross, but I'll get it. Though I quickly gave up with frustration as a kid, I came back to the game and fell in love with the grappling mechanic. Jumping? Who needs jumping when you can fly through the air with the greatest of ease on the flying trapeze?

Metroidvanias: Just the general category, and specifically the 2D Metroids. Picking up new abilities opens up new areas you can explore. There's also so many ways you can do it wrong. I gave up on Metroid Prime: Hunters for DS when it became clear the only new way to open up areas was being able to blast different colored forcefields. They got it down exactly right in the 2Ds. I can only hope Nintendo gets the sense to make a "2 1/2D" Metroid: 2D style, 3D graphics.

Final Fantasy's Job System: FFV and Tactics hold a special place in my heart for the mechanics of building your teams. Didn't quite catch on with FFTA with learning skills from equipment. Job Points are enough for me.

Okami: Absolutely loved that game, including the Celestial Brush mechanic. Did a replay in one instance where I ended up dumping just about all my early praise into ink so that I could use it quickly and regularly. Now that I've finally got a PS2 card reader, I can do that new game + where I left off. Suppose I might actually need to use some healing items if they up the difficulty in it.

ChuChu Rocket: Nice puzzle game. Very simple mechanics. Very devious in spots.

Armored Core: I know this series isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love the level of customization available. They got a bit overdone with heat management after Nexus, but they got rid of the whole thing in AC4. Always nice when I have a game where optimizing means more than just buying the biggest, most expensive gun. I often end up making relatively unflashy models and doing well with them.

Katamari Damacy: Na-naaaaa-nana-nana-na-na Katamari Damacyyyyy-y. Liked the dual joystick controls and loved the simplicity of the concept. Kind of made it hard to build on in sequels beyond adding new levels and more stuff to roll up, but it's still a fun game.

Wonder if This Will Shut Up All Those Commercials

Orac was late in covering this, and I was late in reading it, but I'm glad someone did a bit of in-depth about those silly Kinoki foot pads that allegedly detoxify a person through their feet, since humans are exactly like trees, sending toxins to their roots. And not that we've been using other methods of getting rid of that stuff.

Looks like they're completely self contained: Heat and moisture from steam caused them to blacken on their own. Kind of like how that foot washer detox thing turns the water brown by rusting one of the electrodes. We should probably get that out there until it's common knowledge. Then my late night shows might dump those annoying commercials.

Not Surprised at All

The latest Bigfoot thing was a scam. Like Reverend BigDumbChimp, I suspected it was going to be some marketing thing or publicity stunt, but it's just a straightforward scam. If I was less specific, I would have gotten $20 off my current DM if he took up the bet. Oh well. Anyway, this post won't be ending with just a link up. Had a short IM conversation with my DM on the topic, and I'll be covering some of the points.

The first thing he brought up were the assumptions necessary to believe they exist: 1) They don't like public places, 2) They live in tribes or families, and 3) They bury their dead. These aren't terribly unreasonable for human-like critters, but I doubt they can explain why Bigfoot photos get blurrier every year despite ever improving technology.

1) Despite the danger us humans pose to animals, we still get them rummaging around our stuff. Why? Food. One thing we're good at here in the US is maintaining our obesity. I have a hard time believing an entire species would have no opportunists whatsoever who'd risk getting caught over the decades.

2) Being in close-knit groups is a useful feature, but there will always be individuals who get lost, separated, or go rogue. Those individuals won't conveniently have the evidence of their existence buried by the tribe.

3) I have a hard time imagining a group of ape-ish people burying their dead in deep graves without using tools. I'm no expert in animal ecology, but I would think scavengers would love shallow graves, exposing bones and such for the world to find after they dig up a meal. If the Bigfeet do use tools, you'd think those 'authentic videos' would show them carrying some. There'd probably be an evidence trail associated with that as well. Of course, you'd expect them to be using our modern objects as tools, which would encourage them to venture into our territory to acquire our fine steel and aluminum objects.

So, even granting my DM his assumptions, I still have a hard time accepting the existence of Bigfoot. If they were out there, you'd think they'd have gotten photographed by now. Lot of people now take surveys of wildlife populations by infrared-triggered cameras. Something as big and warm as an ape would certainly trigger those and snap a clear picture.

A Different SCAMipedia

A while back, other skeptical bloggers covered what's been called "SCAMpedia," a wiki dedicated to *cough*quackery*cough* "CAM" treatments because they can't take the heat of criticism and evidence being cited on the really big wiki. Hence, like Conservapedia, they take their ball home and make their own rules against criticism on their site.

Anyway, Skeptico covered this, and Runolfr left a comment leading to a different Scampedia: The Encyclopedia of Scams. They cover quite a lot, including homeopathy, MLMs, and even some coin tricks. I haven't perused the site heavily, but it looks to be a promising resource. Those of you who have wiki inclinations might want to consider signing up to edit and whatever you people do.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gaming Thread: Nightmare Fuel

Well, I'm still working on a game over at GDL, posting like crazy and burying King of Ferret's posts. So, I'm giving him a bit of a break while he's got a post on top by making a general call here. My apologies to Reverend Rob, who sent in an email earlier that included a request to stop linking to TV Tropes, since he'd like his life back. Sorry about what I'm about to do.

For those who aren't interested in signing up and catching up on my posting spree over there, I've got a platformer-RPG concept I've been developing. The characters are cartoonish animals, but the plot is intended to be a bit serious. I'd like to include a bit of Nightmare Fuel to show that this game will not be meant for kids. Suggestions would be appreciated, especially for a Japanese-style haunted house I'll be including for an early level.

So, I think I'll borrow from the creepy past for inspiration:

Earthbound: Giygas still gives me the jibblies. The squishy devil's machine, the Ness face, each bit of music, especially the creepy track that plays when Pokey reveals Giygas isn't just some monster in an evil machine, but has gone up to Cosmic Horror. I think one thing that just sticks with me is "You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas's attack!" Although they replicate some fairly mundane game attacks, it's the idea that there's something coming at you, it's going to hurt, and you don't know how or why. How do you defend against something like that? It certainly doesn't help that I found out where the scene's inspiration came from.

Zelda: ReDead. Wall & Floor Masters. The Zelda II death & Game Over screens when I was little. Plenty more to mention.

Final Fantasy: Not quite the same, but I don't think I've quite recovered from my first encounter with a Tonberry.

Super Paper Mario: The white death aftermath of the Samur-Guy world. To me it somehow suggested an erasure more thorough than simple death. Oh, and Mimi's transformation. I got my brother to agree when I replayed and showed it to him.

Metroid: When I first started playing the game, I thought the atmosphere was hostile. Obviously Samus taking her helmet off in Norfair would cook her alive, but I think at the time I played the first game, my science classes were getting into the bad atmospheres of other planets, so I thought the entire planet of Zebes was dangerous for her without the suit. The thought extended into other games until I saw her take off her helmet on Talon IV in Prime. Until that implied every planet was 'M-class', I always felt a tightness in my lungs, thinking Samus's energy level was the only thing separating her from toxic atmospheres. Crocomire. That region of Tourain were everything was sucked dry by the now-huge Metroid hatchling. The hatchling itself. Mother Brain's unstoppable power beam.

Metroid Prime: The Game Over screen showing her life support failing. The only other Game Over I watched from Prime was the corruption alternate on planet Phaaze. Metroids were creepy enough before, but reading Pirate logs about how they apparently drain life force without so much as sucking out a single drop of body fluids contributed.

Mario 64: Reading the TV Tropes entry, and someone just had to list that evil toothy piano. Jibbly-jibbly-jibbly...

Portal. Just... Portal.

Just about any game that involves deep water and finite oxygen.

Okay, I'm going to take a few moments to get my skin to stand still on me.

93rd Skeptics' Circle

It's up at City of Skeptics.

Open thread as usual, except suggesting Master Woo built that city on Rock and Roll is FORBIDDEN.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Retorts to #71

I was reading some posts today when I hit a weird place in regards to Doggerel #71: "Fundamentalist Atheist" and how silly it is. So, to highlight the silliness, I was thinking of starting a thread here to get a nice list of retorts to variants, including things like "militant." So, here goes:

1. Oh, yeah, we're so militant that if you keep preaching, we'll publish a few more strongly worded books! The horror!

2. Oh, yeah, we're so fundamentalist and unpatriotic we'll cheer when a judge stands up for the founding principles of our nation designed to protect the weak and the minority.

3. Oh, yeah, we're so militant we'll sit here posting snarky, irreverent comments while your felonious friends email death threats to the guy running this blog.

4. Oh, yeah, we're so militant that we react with horror to threats of violence against people while your friends issue them for "violence" against inanimate objects.

5. Oh, yeah, we're so fundamentalist, we're forced to rely on nature itself to provide us with years of verifiable experimental data, solid genetic information, and other lines of evidence that match up in every branch of science. That's so much worse than blindly trusting in one book that contradicts itself as well as visible reality.

So, think that should be enough to get some of you started.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Florida is DOOMED!: Caylee Marie Anthony

Had to use that title, since I have that new Texas is DOOMED label I need to expand, and Florida is one of our big competitors. A reader sent in a link to a story about a band of psychics looking for Caylee Marie Anthony, a missing 3-year-old girl. Thankfully, this sort of thing isn't new, and it doesn't seem to be part of a systematic thing like most true DOOMED topics are. There thankfully seems to be no official link between the psychics and the police given the tone of the story, so I'm glad we aren't talking about stupid government endorsement or anyone forcing the police to work with woo.

But anyway, I suppose I should at least be glad the headline and early mention of psychics in the Fox News article aren't indicative of the whole thing. After finishing the blabbing about the woos, they move appropriately to the various links and associations between the people involved in Caylee's life around the time of her disappearance, giving me the impression that there's plenty of stuff for the police to look at. If the psychics get even vaguely lucky, you can bet they'll be claiming the police were baffled. One thing I'm mildly curious about is the air sampling "new technology" they barely mentioned. The paragraphs devoted to talking about the woos could have been better spent on a brief explanation.

Psychics like this irritate the hell out of me. They can make millions of predictions and cheer when one of them winds up being right. They can talk about the body being in water, out in the desert/forest/other convenient location to hide a body and again praise their mystical powers for telling them the obvious. And I imagine a lot of intelligent, hard-working police officers are pissed off when someone steals the credit from them.

So, to the men and women in blue, you can count on me and many of my fellow skeptics to salute your efforts if the woos won't.

Help Me Clean Up

I've got a little request for help. My image etiquette hasn't been all that stellar here at the Bronze Blog, and I've been taking (hopefully small) amounts of bandwidth from other people's places with hotlinks.

So, objectives:
1. If you find a broken image in the archives, direct my attention to it.
2. If you find an image done by hotlink to something other than a blogger or flickr account, tell me.
3. On Doggerel entries, I've been skipping out on finding helpful, funny images. Fling suggestions.

I'll likely be going over the Doggerel series soon to fix the image problems I find there.

In the Dog House #3: Virtual Reality

Some of you may remember I did a little post about one of Nintendo's greatest failures, the Virtual Boy. You may want to read that post first if you haven't already. Much of what I typed there will apply here.

When I was younger and virtual reality was brand-spanking new, promising to be the next big thing in entertainment, it was very cool. There were all sorts of promises both explicit and implicit about new levels of gameplay immersion. Heck, sometimes is was so over the top, cartoons and such treated it as if sticking on a VR headset sucked your mind into cyberspace. I found myself screaming, essentially, "VR DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!"

I didn't think all that much about VR since those days, except for when I dug up my Virtual Boy during some closet cleaning. Then I saw a commercial for Beyond Tomorrow featuring a VR set that involved a big hamster ball the player would run in. That's when an extra level of crap about VR hit me: The concept has been around for what, two decades? And they still haven't established themselves with some common brand name everyday headset? Yeah, it's cool that they've got some big device out there that gives a player a feeling of mobility to go with depth perception and a little mocap. But unless I'm going to head over to whatever techhead paradise it's set up at, that's kind of pointless. Where's the VR for the common man?

That's what these geniuses should be working on: Getting the baseline immersion to be commonplace. I know a fair share of games where having binocular depth perception would make a lot of jumps easier to judge. Even if I'm still holding a gamepad, that would be a big improvement. So why aren't they making that cheap instead of making big motion sensitive hamster balls? Shouldn't we be moving beyond the overengineered concept phase by now and at least into "It costs $1,000 dollars now, but they'll be in mass production with a price plummet next year"?

Doggerel #161: "Random"

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

There's no shortage of fundies who love to throw around the word "random," especially when it comes to topics like evolution. Closely related to this is "chance," a concept many people don't really grasp. I thought probability was a required part of everyone's math classes. I may have taken statistics courses, but I don't need that to know that it's not unusual for someone, somewhere to win a 1-in-500 million lottery.

First, to cover the obvious: Evolution and abiogenesis are not attributing everything to chance. You don't start with abiogenesis and claim flat odds of humans coming out. Start with lots of chemicals and time and see if any of them become self replicating. Once you've gotten past that hurdle, it's established, and those replicators can move onto other adaptations, which will then get established if they're beneficial, and the process repeats. Each of these steps has a reasonable chance of happening.

The problem comes from IDiots trying to add them all up. Imagine you've just won a board game by rolling exactly what you needed to win at the end. Each die roll has 6 possible outcomes. Your last roll had a 1-in-6 chance. A little unlikely, but well within reason. Now, imagine someone claiming the game is fixed because the exact outcome of the game was unlikely, citing the hundreds of rolls and how they would all have to come out right. That's what Creationists are doing when they make up numbers about the odds of things "spontaneously" forming. Evolution didn't require this particular outcome. There were plenty of other possibilities.

Moving on to other popular uses: Far too many woos think that we're overeager to attribute alleged psychic intuitions to dumb luck guesses. Sometimes psychics do get lucky, but most of the time, they're tilting the odds in their favor, using techniques like cold reading to gather information when the mark latches onto a vague comment or the fast-talking aspect to make sure the mark dismisses the wrong guesses when he stumbles on a hit. On top of all the mentalism tricks at their disposal, there's one fact that many people have trouble acknowledging: People have a lot of similarities. One Sylvia Browne fan stopped by here not long ago, asking me how she could possibly have known her mother wanted to get back to a painting hobby. Lots of people have artistic hobbies they wish they could get back to, and painting probably tops the list.

We live in an orderly universe that obeys certain rules. Philosophically, I know that "randomness" may just be an approximation of mechanism we don't yet understand. But even if the universe plays dice on some level, the game still follows rules, and science has given us a great understanding of those rules. If there's any leaning we scientifically minded people have, it's for order and predictability. Dumb luck is generally a guess of last resort, and we repeat experiments to try to cancel that out.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Scooby Syndrome

Remember the classic episodes of Scooby Doo before they torched the series' premise? The monster of the week was always Old Man Backoff (Back off!) trying to scare the locals away while he did something illegal, and so forth. In short, every spook was a guy in a costume. Only exception I recall was a shut down amusement park with some wacky inventor's robot actually being a robot.

Despite having that solid track record and the precedent that should have come with it, the cast usually acted as if they believed just this once, it'd be a real ghost. Doesn't cast my predecessor in the best light, does it? Anyway, I often wonder if believers in psychics end up go through the same thing. If they ever catch on to a particular psychic's trickery, somehow, I doubt all of them are soured to the next claimant waiting in line. The same thing goes for a lot of other woo. I've seen ufologists, ghost photographers, and so forth get embarrassed by having the real cause of the weird lights they saw being found, and immediately pleading "well, what about THIS?" and moving on to similarly shoddy work of a marginally different kind.

Somehow, though, they never, ever arrive at the real thing by process of elimination. My guess is that they've really firmly rooted down in their culture of being nonjudgmental and relativistic towards each other, that disaffected John Edward fans who've moved to Sylvia Browne won't confront JE fans, and vice-versa. I don't hear about all that many rivalries, and when I do, it tends to be of the dogmatic sort. Back when I dealt with twoofers more often, for example, those sort of things were resolved with ban hammers, not evidence. The standard hushabooms would ban no-planers. The no-planers would ban the standard hushabooms. And they'd all ban the skeptics for wanting to talk about evidence and the laws of physics. Whoever they'd ban, they'd accuse of being shills for all the evil people and that at four o' clock, we'd all be two feet tall. TWO FEET TALL.

Okay, I'm getting weird. Back to my point: The thing that binds woos together is an unwillingness to investigate. They want their belief to be eternally available to believe in, so to set up Scooby Doo syndrome, they make it so they have an infinite chain of failure points before questioning their belief. There'll always be more people out there claiming to be psychic. It's true that psychic powers won't be falsified by finding out any one psychic is faking it, but shouldn't repeated failures and disagreements get them to at least question it? Even if that happens, though, the mindset involves working backwards: Instead of requiring that we debunk all the illions of claimants who have countless convenient excuses for failure, they should show us ONE psychic who's the genuine article and can pass a test designed to prevent cheating. Shouldn't it be easier to do that than require us to debunk each and every one?

I used to wonder if psychic powers existed, though I thankfully never tied myself down to any psychic claimant, especially since I saw Randi expertly take down Uri Geller on a TV special at an early age. I kept it vague for a while until oddly enough, a beloved TV show got me thinking: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Deanna's mother stopped by for an episode and was having some psychic troubles. Dr. Crusher mentioned her "psylocinine" levels, some brain chemical involved in telepathy. That got me wondering: HOW would psychic powers work if they were real? They've been investigating psychic powers and such for decades. Shouldn't they at least have working hypotheses? That was the beginning of the end for my potential belief in psychic powers. People like Randi investigated psychics, knew all sorts of tricks they could do, and they could gain headway by devising tests a trickster would fail, but a psychic would pass. All failures.

At the same time, paranormal institutes had been at "work" forever, and they still had nothing to show. Almost two decades later in my life, and I'm seeing the same thing, but now with less effort being put into it. Along with screams of bloody murder if I ask a woo to endorse stepping things up a few notches.

Woos who have fallen into Scooby Syndrome have a problem far more fundamental than belief in a particular woo-promoter: They've engineered easy excuses and dodges so that they can go on to believe what they like, no matter how much evidence there is. That's why I think, as an outspoken skeptic, we need to focus on bringing attention to the fact that they're approaching the problem backwards: You don't assume something is true until it's all debunked, you assume it's false until you have an example to prove you wrong. That's what makes science so exciting for me: Being wrong is a wonderful thing. It means there's a new part of the world to find out about. For the woo, however, being wrong is a character flaw.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

All Those Tags

I've had a little "Digg it" tag on my posts for a long time. And I can't recall ever seeing traffic coming from that. I don't know if I've done something wrong with mine, but I'd appreciate some suggestions on how to attach a bunch of those social networking or whatever they're called tags on my posts.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Funny Search

I don't keep track of these like I used to, but bumped into this:

my stomach hurts astrology

Wow. Woo can be injured by someone's digestive tract. I should see if I can track this guy down and splice his DNA into mine or something.

Quote of the Time Being #18

Accidentally skipped a number, so I'm currently negotiating for a quick spin in a blue police box to fix that. Until then, er, let's skip the time travel grammar lesson, here's #18.

From AJ Milne in a comment over at PZ's:
I also think it's probably the single most damaging aspect of religion. The dynamic reinforces a cynical, de facto relativism. The real message is: lying is perfectly acceptable in many, many situations; the truth is whatever is socially convenient; indeed, if enough of us agree to tell the same lie, well, then, for rhetorical purposes, that's the truth, now. Practical and political purposes may or may not diverge in certain contexts, however, so you frequently have to do this doublethink shuffle. Faith is good and can move mountains and your god is all powerful and will not let you come to harm, but you know perfectly well there's no sense to expect said deity to stop traffic if you blurt out said request to it and dash on foot across a red light. You know perfectly well the rhetorical does not equal the practical. Here, the theology offers you a nice little out to cover this practicality: don't go testing the guy. But you know how it works, and which rule matters where. Matters in which intervention occurs are unknowable or are demonstrated after the fact. If you ran across and somehow failed to get horribly maimed, then maybe your god listened... And yes, you know, actually, this is evidence for nothing, but this, too, is part of the rules. Reason, too, is subordinate to the social need. You are to twist it, too, to affirm the lie. By any means necessary.
I love the part about de facto relativism.

Friday, August 01, 2008

GDL Expands Ever So Slightly

Well, I've signed on King of Ferrets as another author on GDL. For other readers, there's still the option of signing on if you've got gaming ideas to discuss. Hopefully having the royal mustelid around will appease some of you who'd like to have stuff to discuss other than my untitled platformer.