An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

September 17, 2010

Data-ey

Filed under: funny — Tags: , , — Radical Scientist @ 8:18 pm

There should really be a science-specific word that parallels Stephen Colbert’s truthiness. It’s not exactly falling for psudoscience (since that kind of ‘well it seems like it should work this way’ thinking might or might not lead to bullshit conclusions).  ‘Common sense’ lends an air of approval that’s not such a good idea, and ‘intuitive’ sounds too technical.

There was some essay I read as a kid on exobiology, purporting to explain that there’s a good chance life has to be carbon based,  because living systems need to be able to build a super wide variety of molecules, and nothing is as flexible as carbon while still being reasonably common anywhere in the universe. Maaaaybe silicone, they said, but it’s hard to get that much silicone together, even after a supernova event. I have no idea if that logic is even plausible, let alone based on any kind of evidence other than that we happen to be made of carbon, and it’s working out pretty well for us.

So, any nominations? Factish? Data-ey? Scienceful? What do y’all think?

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August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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August 4, 2010

XKCD FTW

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Radical Scientist @ 11:00 am

This is fucking awesome:

If you don’t read XKCD, you should. But I don’t need to tell you that, because you already do.  That is all.

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July 24, 2010

Captchas: Making Doubt my Humanity, One Blog Comment at a Time

Filed under: funny — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 9:38 pm

The other night, I went out to a very fabulous birthday party for my very faaabulous teen-era BFF. Let’s just say there was a lot of celebrating, and I wound up catching a ride home with more, er, competent friends a couple hours before dawn.

For reasons that now entirely elude me, I began issuing my standard rant about captchas,  those distorted-text blocks you have decipher to fill in all over the internet to prove you’re not a spam bot. My kind ride-giver cut me off to share his own complaint. He has some vision issues, captchas don’t enlarge well, using the audio alternative is awkward in public (and not every captcha has an alternative for visually impaired folks),   and they’re generally just a pain in his ass. Accessibility fail.

My complaint, though is that they make me wonder if I’m a robot. I fail captchas. All. The. Time. I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to parse the stretched out, struck through text. My ride mentioned that, as a computer science geek, the one upside of the fucking things is having a real-life application for the Turing test makes him smile. But, when you think about it, they’re a reverse of the original Turing test–you have to prove to a computer that you’re a human, rather than having a human determine which respondents are computers. And those computers judging us? They’re very skeptical. And they decide which of our ever-more-inescapable web services we’re allowed to access.

A few weeks ago, I took a somewhat unexpected road trip, and tried to use Facebook to beg some couch space from friends who live along the way, since I didn’t have their phone number handy. I shot off a last-minute message, and tried to use my partner’s smart phone to check for a response as we went along. for some reason, the combination of a mobile phone and the couple hundred miles from home convinced Facebook I was trying to illicitly access my own account, and it locked me out. One failed, tiny captcha later, my account was locked until I could get to a proper laptop and answer a long series annoying personal questions–they pull photos of your friends from their profiles, and make you ID them. You know what my friends don’t do much? Post clear, recent photos of themselves on their Facebook profiles. Let’s just say I’m glad we found a cheap motel.

Now, good luck proving you’re human enough to comment.

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July 17, 2010

Periodic Table of Profanity

Filed under: funny,media and pop culture — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 6:02 pm

Those of you who know me well or are on the receiving end of my Google Reader barrage have noticed that I like periodic tables. Especially ones composed of things other then elements. This is my favorite of the week:

It’s a magnificent, apparently British thing, from the Interrogative series to the variations on Sodding. My only complaint is that the color-coded series only correspond loosely to their content.

And in all fairness to my content-thieving, I should mention that you can buy print over this away, and that I saw this first on the excellent blog Man Made DIY.

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July 16, 2010

Libertarians: Overt Douchbags

Today’s post is brought to you, belatedly, by this lovely post over (link should work now) at Gin and Tacos and my thoughts thereon. Long story short: the post is an, er, scathing critique of James Sherk’s (of the Heritage Foundation*) recent appearance on Hardball. (note: much of the audio on the latter half of the video is ruined by Matthews laughing his ass off the soundstage) Sherk asserts that, basically, the Science of Economics Proves having unemployment insurance discourages people from sucking it up and getting a job, any job, ASAP–even if that means moving to where the jobs are, or taking something out of your field and way below your former pay grade. Or all three. And, we are to believe, that’s a Bad Thing, because unemployed people are using Your Tax Dollars to hold out for jobs like their old ones, rather than accepting that the invisible hand of the marketplace has booger-flicked them out of the middle class.

One thing I’ve always wondered: Isn’t it maybe better, long term national economic policy-wise, for the abruptly unemployed to have a chance to hold out for whatever their definition of a ‘good job’ is? Having someone who’s highly trained–whether they have a Ph.D or 20 years experience as an underwater welder–take work way out of their field puts their skills to waste. I’m guessing Sherk would say they’re welcome to keep looking for another teaching or welding job while they flip burgers, but taking that minimum wage job is bound to slow down their job search waaaay down–it’s not like their new boss has any incentive to let a newly-trained employee leave, and they’re not under any mandate to give employees time off to go to interviews. I’m not just speculating, this was been a problem for me when I was in food service and looking to get out. The longer you’re out of a profession, the harder it gets to get back in. At 6 months, you’re an unemployed welder. At 2 years, you’re a former welder.

And for people who don’t have the education or experience to get out of shitty jobs, a sudden influx of formerly-white collar workers is bad, bad news. To take this to a bit of an extreme, consider this: when the last 5 people a McDonald’s hired have a BA or an MBA, there’s a good chance HR will start skipping over applicants sporting a GED. You can see this in places with chronic over education and high employment–isolated college towns and Portland, OR come to mind.

The percentage of Americans with college degrees has meandered ever-upward over the last few decades, and with it, the minimum qualifications for many jobs have gone up incrementally too. Office drone & secretarial type listings often demand a bachelor’s degree rather than a HS or associate’s degree, unskilled workers are expected to have graduated high school, and skilled labor has slowly swung from on-the-job training toward a tech school first, employment later model. I think this downturn will push that trend a little further, as the unemployed people with MBAs settle into office jobs a tier or two below their last position, the people with undergrad degrees go down another notch or two, and so on. People who are highly educated aren’t going to be unemployed forever, they’ll just wind up pushing everyone below them down a notch.

Human-interest stories about the crappy economy always focus on the former banker who now works as a gas station attendant. But what about the guy who can’t get a job as a gas station attendant because all those jobs are now going to college graduates?

I’m guessing Sherk hasn’t had much experience being unemployed without good prospects. So he sat down and thought real hard about it, read some intro economics texts that say things will all work out so long as everyone makes ‘rational’ choices and people have perfect information. And using his Rational Power, he deducted people should go where there are jobs.

But he obviously didn’t talk to anyone in the ‘real world,’ (or even in the rural poverty hot zones of Real America (TM)) or he’d have noticed that he’s full of shit. For starters, there’s no where in the US right now where business is booming and jobs are plentiful. And if he’d talked to anyone actually dealing with unemployment,* he’d know that the whole ‘rational decision’ model isn’t what’s actually sensible for people to do. In a model, moving for a crappy job is better than staying put with no job. But in practice, there are all kinds of costs–the cost of moving, of giving up your friends, family, professional network, etc. If only one person in a couple is unemployed, moving just to see if a state with 7% unemployment is better than one with 10% unemployment is especially stupid. I could go on, but I’m sure everyone gets the point.

*Yeah, I know, the Heritage Foundation fancies itself more conservative than libertarian, but in this case, the economic argument is pure free-market freebasing, which both teams support but libertarians do so with less social finesse. Sherk’s fuck-you-and-your-kids attitude is a stellar example of that kind of malicious social cluelessness. So there.

**At one point he cites his well-off unemployed friends, who he doesn’t seem to have talked to at all, and who are exempt from his admonitions to take jobs they currently consider beneath them.

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July 5, 2010

Zombies and the Collective Unconscious

Filed under: funny,media and pop culture — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 7:58 pm

I was hanging out with a friend tonight, and at some point I somehow wound up mentioning my recurring zombie dreams. I have a lot of different dreams about zombies, one every month or two.  Mostly, I’m being chased by zombies. Once or twice I was a zombie, one of which ended just as I was being sentenced to 6-8 years in prison for ‘attempted zombification’ of someone I’d tried to take a harmless little chunk out of.

My favorite is also the most elaborate. It spans several years. Basically,  a RAGE-virus style zombie apocalypse hit Athens. Lots of people became zombies, even more fled, and I managed to hold out with a couple dozen people, promptly availing ourselves of the nicest abandoned houses and cars in town. After a few months, the zombies got bored or hungry and wandered out of town. We planted gardens. Had picnics. Began to rebuild.

And then the zombie-virus epidemic waned out. After a few years of bloodthirsty brain-eating, people’s immune systems were able to fight it off. Pale, scabby recovering zombies started wandering in to town, not remembering much, but apologizing like hell for what they could remember. “Dude, I…uh…I’m sorry I ate your sister. I just couldn’t stop. I feel terrible.” And the survivors, who had been gleefully popping off any shuffling corpse that came this side of the horizon felt wave after wave of guilt. No one had really stopped to question if the zombies had lost their humanity for good. Many people had killed their own undead loved ones. It hadn’t taken very long at all to even stop thinking of them as former people.

We had to process with the zombies. It was fucking awkward. More than a few of the survivors started muttering that we should spare ourselves the trouble and see if we couldn’t kill the rest before they recovered.

My friend seemed to think this is one obvious permutation that hasn’t really been done before, and was prodding me into writing it up as a short story or something.

There’s the I Am Legend thing, where the zombies are supposed to be intelligent, but they’re certainly not *people.* We talked for a bit about the ways it’s telling that zombie attacks are the pop culture trope of the moment.

Alien attacks, and monsters, are perfectly cold-war. You have an adversary who’s sentient, malicious, and totally not human. A perfect chance for straight-up good guys vs bad guys, no ambiguity, and the sides are clearly demarcated. Plus, with aliens, it’s a good bet the humans are gonna need some pretty spiffy weaponry, to stand a chance against shockingly well armed, diplomacy-disinterested invaders.

But zombie movies are all about having the masses of people around you turn against you. You get to have to open fire into the crowd, inure yourself to killing your neighbors at any chance, and leave modern society behind.  I love zombie movies as much as the next guy, but seriously. There is some creepy shit under there.

And on that note, it’s past my bedtime. What do y’all think?

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July 4, 2010

World Cup Storytime

Filed under: funny,media and pop culture — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 11:17 pm

I love storytelling. I’m a connoisseur and shameless plagiarist of anecdotes, and lately, I’ve started writing them down here and there. This one comes from Len. I suspect the reporter bit is bullshit, but it was fun to listen to.

Sometime in the late 60′s, early 70′s,* West Germany and the UK were facing off at the World Cup final. The game teams were well matched, and the game was tied (2-2) and not going anywhere fast as they headed into extra time.

Until  the UK team kicked a goal. Almost. The ball hit the underside of the goalpost, bounced straight down to the ground, and ricocheted clear of the goal.  The ball hit hit West Germany’s goal, but it hadn’t exactly gone into the net. The British fans were alternately thrilled and crushed, and the Germans waited nervously for the ball to be officially called out.  The swiss ref was baffled, looking around to his linemen in the hopes someone had had a clear view.  Right away, a Soviet ref called it–in. Point to Brittan. The fans go insane, with the Germans trying to fight the call from the stands, and the English settling in for some preemptive celebrating. The clock ran down. England scored another point over the dejected Germans, and won what is still their only World Cup. The German team left, angry and dejected.

After the game, a reporter from the BBC managed to corner the ref. “That was certainly a controversial call. Many of the fans are questioning your judgment, saying it’s not possible the ball could have gone into the next before bouncing out. Tell me, what did you see from your place on the field that was different, that convinced you to make that call?”

The ref nodded along intensely with the reporter, watching his lips and trying to follow his English over the background roar. But when the correspondent finished his rambling question, the ref turned away from him, looked straight into the camera, and said

“Stanlingrad.”

******************************************************************

The national stadium of Azerbaijan is named after him. Purportedly, Queen Elizabeth later gave him a golden whistle for his “services to England.”

*It was 1966. Details of the game in question are entry #2 here.

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June 4, 2010

Propaganda for your Pants

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture — Tags: , , , , , — Ethan @ 7:31 pm

A little while ago, I got the chance to tour parts of the CDC. While waiting for our contact to come and lead us through the impressive maze of the place, we killed a few moments wandering around the main attraction of the Visitor’s Center: the CDC’s museum to itself.

At the time, their temporary exhibit was a retrospective of STI public health campaigns. It was fascinating stuff, from the now-quaint syphilis scares to the deep, deep disgust with women’s sexuality.  (Note: all these images are from Mother Jones recent retrospective of military propaganda The Enemy in Our Pants, which inspired this post. Check it out)

Yeeeeah. I love a good pun, but seriously. Booby Trap? Are you fucking kidding me? There are pulp novels from the same time period with classier covers. This is a hairs breadth away from suggesting that woman’s vagina is a spear-lined pit covered in palm fronds. And they go on like that, one after another, warning innocent men of the horrible, horrible things that could befall their precious wieners, should they get too close to any of the local ladies.

Well, except maybe for this one. Made for the British public just before the US sent a massive wave of troops in to prepare for D-Day, it puts the blame squarely on the hoards of apple-cheeked, sex crazed GI’s.

The other thing that really caught my attention was the  stark difference between a lot of the first-generation PSA’s and the ones that came later–the first syphillis treatment ads basically just said “Hey, did you know you could stop having syphillis? Ask your doctor!” Which, given all the havoc untreated syphilis can cause, was probably all they needed to say.

Similarly, the posters from the pan-African smallpox eradication campaign all translated to variations on “If you go to your local clinic and get vaccinated, you won’t ever get smallpox. Bring the kids!” with matching illustrations of a friendly-looking man in a lab coat holding a minimally intimidating vaccine gun, followed by happy families celebrating their smallpoxlessness. I mean, that shit pretty much sells itself, right?

But by the 60′s, one US ad for the oral polio vaccine mentioned its ‘great taste.’ Which is nice and all (I’m guessing it was for the polio vaccine carried on sugarcubes ) but seriously? Even if it tasted like rotting shark asshole, it keeps you from getting polio. There’s no question about whether it’s worth it.

Yeesh. Americans.

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April 29, 2009

Best. Methodology. Ever.

Filed under: funny — Tags: , — Ethan @ 10:37 pm

Dr.  Simone Schnall at the University of Plymouth in the UK, has found some, er, interesting ways to study human’s visceral responses to our thoughts and  emotions. Specifically, she’s recently headed up two studies on the link between moral judgement and disgust. As I understand it (and I mostly don’t, as there are no plants or fungi involved), her work suggests our sense of morality is closely tied to, perhaps evolved out of, our sense of disgust. Which, when you think about it, makes sense–morality is deeply ingrained in our psyche, it had to come out of something less abstract, and we’re often viscerally disgusted when faced with something morally repugnant. The trick, though, is separating the two.

And that’s where the fun starts. In order to separate respondent’s moral judgment from their sense of disgust, the research team came up with sets of moral conundra to present to participants, while physically grossing them out in a variety of effective, but morally neutral ways.  For example:

A team led by Simone Schnall asked students walking outside on a college campus to answer questions about scenarios like this, rating them on a scale of 1 (extremely immoral) to 7 (perfectly okay). The catch was that they had rigged a trash can near the experimenters’ desk with fart spray. Some respondents read and rated the stories in the presence of a mild stink (four sprays of fart scent), some had a strong scent (eight sprays), and a lucky third group completed the experiment with no scent at all.

See kids, science is fun! In addition to using lab-grade fart spray, they tried a variety of other ways toset off  subjects internal gross-o-meter: having them answer the questionairre in a dirty, sticky office piled high with empty pizza boxes, making them watch a ‘disgustng’ movie first, or asking them to recall a disgusting memory. They all worked–when people were grossed out, they judged the charachters in the researcher’s morality thought-experiments more harshly.

And what were these fictional people up to? Breaking and bending a wide variety of taboos: keeping money from a found wallet, filming people without their consent, killing one person to save 5, having children with their cousins, and masturbating with kittens. Yes, I said masturbating with kittens. As in:

Matthew is playing with his new kitten late one night. He is wearing only his boxer shorts, and the kitten sometimes walks over his genitals. Eventually, this arouses him, and he begins to rub his bare genitals along the kitten’s body. The kitten purrs, and seems to enjoy the contact. How wrong is it for Matthew to be rubbing himself against the kitten?

Needless to say, folks who had just been fumigated with canned fart were in no mood to be lienient toward hypothetical kitten fetishists.

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