March 31, 2008

Quiz of the Day

Bored? You must be; you’re reading my blog.

So, here’s a quiz for you. You choose the category: “Math” or “Obscure Pop Culture.”

If you chose OBSCURE POP CULTURE, here is your question:

What does the date today have to do with the lowly salt marsh harvest mouse?

If you chose MATH, here is your question:

Ten people are in the room. What is the probability that any of them either share a (calendar) birthday or have birthdays on adjacent calendar days?

Posted by James at 11:47 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

March 28, 2008

Not Feelin' It Shotgun

Jut not feelin' it for the shotgun post this week, and my links are pathetic. Plus, for some reason, my copy of Firefox on my work machine keeps deciding to take over the computer and I have to kill the process. Which is just as well, because I'm busy, but since I use gmail for my email, I rather need the browser open. Bleh.

  • GRB080319B by Pi-of-the-Sky (space,physics,science,astronomy)
    • World's first movie of the birth of a black hole?
  • Best Obama Girl Videos - Barack Obama (meme,internet,video,politics,humor)
    • This internet meme went right by me, which is why I missed the joke on SNL a few weeks ago. Politics make people do some bizarre things. In any case, if you feel the need to find out what or who "Obama Girl" is, here's your chance.
  • 8bitDandD - Satan's Games (animation,games,humor)
    • It's an 8-bit reenactment of D&D. "I'm attacking the darkness" Yes, it's a repeat. See, I told you it's pathetic this week.

Other links of note.

I am amused by the following video podcast: Tiki Bar TV. It's been around for a while, and I remember seeing it mentioned way back on Irina's Geek Entertainment TV. But it's taken me a while to get interested in watching video podcasts. The premise is: a few goofy characters introduce you to mixed drink recipes in an exotic apartment swank pad Tiki Bar. You can download it to your iPod via iTunes, or just watch it online.

Lunch today, here in theKC is going to be Antonio's in about 15 minutes. Thanks to Karen for the reminder, when she asked me if I'd ever been there. She'd read about it here on a New York Times food blog. Indeed, I have been there. And I concur; it is good!

Enjoy your Friday.

Posted by James at 12:02 PM | Comments (3)

LNG Returns

When the plan to site an LNG terminal in Fall River seemed all but dead, Weaver’s Cove Energy is back with a new proposal that they say addresses the concerns that have been raised. In reality, it merely circumvents the obstacles that successfully sunk the previous plans.

The new plan replaces dangerous navigation in the Taunton River with a pipeline that runs along the river bottom. The LNG would still be stored in tanks at the old Shell Oil site, which makes the plan a non-starter for citizens who were worried about that site.

The new terminal would be in Somerset waters, 2 miles from the Braga Bridge. The large LNG tankers would still have to pass through Rhode Island waters to reach the terminal of course.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the offshore proposal is “bordering on stunning in its audaciousness, greed and stupidity.” “If they claim to have been listening and this is what they came up with after a clear substantive evaluation, then they are not only greedy but deaf and dumb,” Lynch said. “To suggest such a ludicrous, unworkable, unimaginable option clearly and finally illustrates their disregard for people in general, nevermind the environment.”

I find Mayor Correia’s reaction to be pretty limp.

As he faces his first significant public challenge in the LNG arena as mayor, Correia said his strategy to defeat this proposal will be to “just be upfront” with the city’s objections. He said, however, he finds this proposal an admission that tankers will not cross under the Braga Bridge. “I think it’s a big concession, because they now know they are not getting an LNG ship up the river and into that cove,” Correia said.

He’s going to be “up front?” That’ll put the fear of God into Weaver’s Cove Energy! I don’t see how he can say this is a concession. Yes, they’ve realized that they can’t get the ships up the river. But, Mr. Correia, that is cold comfort to your city’s residents who don’t want to live next to what they see as a ticking time bomb.

I’m just being up front on this.

Posted by James at 8:35 AM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2008

Record High

I was just checking tomorrow’s weather on Weather.com and noticed something.

Check that out - a record high of 81 degrees in 1998. An average high of 51 degrees. But for us, we’re going to get to enjoy rainy 38 degree weather.

Have a great Friday!

Posted by James at 8:36 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 26, 2008

Grooveshark Article

If you were interested in my quick take on Grooveshark (and other music sharing services) a few posts back, I'd like to direct you to Leslie's much more detailed review of Grooveshark which also discusses the monetary aspect of their approach, which involves the ability to buy music, but also to get paid in credit for sharing music. This will probably be great news for people with large online social networks, but not quite as great for people with large antisocial networks.

Here's my Grooveshark playlist called "Antisocial Network." It would be great if I could somehow embed it here.

I'm busy trying to get my current iTunes library re-rated after losing all my ratings in a hard drive mishap, so I'm heavily listenign to my library rather than checking out other people's playlists at the moment...

Posted by James at 2:53 PM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2008

Cannibals

How many cannibals could your body feed?
Posted by James at 9:13 PM | Comments (8)

Oh Noes! Spring!

Damn. I missed the vernal equinox.

My pennance is to do one Tom Jones, one Barry White and one Marvin Gaye.




This examination of conscience made possible by YouTube.

Posted by James at 3:56 PM | Comments (0)

Happy Birthday Bean

I can’t believe you’re thirteen.

Posted by James at 11:25 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Chiropractic: Denouncing and Rejecting?

I lied - I have another post on chiropractic.

Have I been fair to chiropractors? Honestly, I don’t feel anyone has an obligation of fairness to a field of practice that eschews scientific rigor in the endeavor of health care.

However, what if there are chiropractors who focus on manipulative methods for back therapy only? What if they properly warn their patients? What if they completely renounce the chiropractic hypothesis of subluxations causing disease?

There is such a subset of chiropractors, who identify themselves by their membership in the National Association for Chiropractic Medicine (NACM).

The first and foremost requirement for membership in the NACM is that a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine renounce the chiropractic hypothesis and/or philosophy; that is, the tenets upon which their scope of practice is based.

This would seem to me to be a good starting point in judging an individual chiropractor. Quackwatch has a number of other tips as well.

In Canada, a similar organization known as Canadian Academy of Manipulative Therapists (CAMT) refers to the practitioners as Manipulative Therapists. I think there’s some wisdom in using a different name to distance themselves from the sort of charlatans who tried to stop the polio vaccine. And I applaud the effort to scope manipulative therapy to back pain only, with a regimen of treatment that is usually limited in the number of visits rather than a lifelong commitment.

I understand that only a small minority of chiropractors belong to these organizations, and I’m not sure how you verify that a chiropractor belongs. Is there a certification? A list somewhere?

In any case, file this under “questions to ask next time you bump into a chiropractor.”

Posted by James at 2:25 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 24, 2008

You Like iLike?

I’m playing with different music discovery social web apps.

Friends have always been a great boost when I’m looking to extend my musical horizons and I feel like I’m in a listening rut. This has especially been true at work, where I’ve often shared an office with someone willing to listen to my music some of the time and play his music some of the time. Working with people who have flexible musical tastes is a great way to expand your own.

Unfortunately for me, my current office situation does not allow music, and it’s back to headphones. Which I pretty much hate. I find it annoying, in 2008, to have my head attached to my computer via a wire. But, worse than being encumbered, I can’t rely on my co-workers to be DJs.

I hope that social music discovery web apps will fill that gap.

Last.fm

I’ve been on Last.fm for a while, but have only visited it infrequently. I could never really get my head around the purpose of it, and I felt the website was a bit unfocused — unlike the more straightforward iLike. I installed their “Scrobbler’ software which is supposed to detect what you’re listening to in iTunes and help keep track of your likes and dislikes. But I was immediately turned off when I couldn’t manually define my likes. I went back a few times and never felt like it was more trouble than it was worth. I uninstalled the software. I know people who use it, but I think they’ve lost me for good now.

iLike

I think iLike started out as a Facebook app. This may explain why it appears more simple and focused.

I can’t remember why I first signed up, but I immediately felt like comfortable because it throws a bunch of artists at you and asks you to either rate them “iLiked” or not. So it’s easy to go through a bunch of your likes and dislikes quickly, without even downloading anything.

Basically, this appeared to be nothing more than a database of artists where you could keep track of your preferences, compare them to your friends, and find new music by looking at what your friends are listening to.

But today I’ve noticed there’s a bit more to it. There are free GarageBand tracks to download. And R.E.M. have released their new album online in a sort of preview mode. You can listen to the whole album (called Accelerate) on iLike. Listen to it all you want this week. They hope this will help you decide to buy it when it hits the stores. I think it’s a good strategy for an established band. I like R.E.M. and this new album seems to be basically more good R.E.M.

If you like iLike, you can download a sidebar that attaches itself to iTunes or Windows Media Player (at least, on Windows). It can keep track of music you play, and allows you to easily add tracks to the list of stuff you iLike. Also, the sidebar will make recommendations based on your listening habits. It’s fairly unobtrusive, so far.

It also points you to what appear to be free music downloads, but I’m not certain how related those are to your listening habits. They may just be randomly suggested tracks. None of these web have much depth when it comes to explaining what’s going on behind the scenes — they’re hoping you just focus on the interface they give you.

Grooveshark

I just signed up to this today, so I still haven’t gotten much of a feel for Grooveshark. Unlike iLike, you do have to download an application to get started on Grooveshark. This makes it more like Last.fm. But the Grooveshark “Shark Bite” application immediately wants to upload your music folder’s catalog.

That list of songs, once uploaded, becomes your library on the Grooveshark website. You can play any of the tracks you see there and also drag them into playlists which your friends are supposed to be able to share. Shareable playlists was one of the things that enticed me about Grooveshark. I’d love to be able to share playlists with friends and have them listen to mine while I listen to theirs. I’ll get back to you on how well that works, because I barely have any friends there yet.

Even so, Groovshark immediately lets you search for songs you don’t have and you can listen to almost any song you can think of. Grooveshark assures us that it is doing this legally. You have to pay if you want to download the song to your iPod or hard drive, but it seems to let you listen freely. This would seem to mean that listening to your friends playlists is not a pipe dream.

To listen to these tracks, your friends have to run the Sharkbyte Java application, which is small and, they say, easy to uninstall. This appears to be true.

Something weird, though: Sharkbyite appears to be uploading music from my hard drive. I haven’t yet figured out exactly why it’s doing this. I believe it has to do with the ultimate goal of track and playlist sharing, but they’re short on explanations.

If you just wanted to listen to other people’s playlists, it appears you could install the app and refuse to point it at your music folder. It doesn’t seem to get upset, and will happily allow you to play tracks from albums you do not own. I was listening to an old Nine Inch Nails album earlier today.

My jury’s still out on Grooveshark, but I’m intrigued.

Pandora

Pandora — from the Music Genome Project — remains the most easy site to use with no downloads and all pure listening and recommendations. If you want to forget the social aspect and focus on music, Pandora is your one stop shop. You don’t even need an account to start listening.

The last time I was using Pandora, there was no social aspect. But now it seems they’ve added the ability to scan your address book and connect to your friends. So, you can music-stalk your friends for new music. This is great for a music stalker, such as myself, who is hungry for suggestions.

This is part of my problem — there is too much music I like. Yet I am always looking for something new, and I get bored easily. Pandora is a good antidote for that.

Want to help?

Let me know what music apps you’re using, how you find new music, and what you think of the above services.

If you’re interested in being part of my network on any of these sites, here are some ways to find me:

Help a music-lover out.

Posted by James at 9:12 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Chiropractic And You: Informed Is Better

To close out this miniseries on chiropractic, here’s something quick and hopefully helpful, to make you a more informed customer of chiropractic treatments, if you have already decided to go to a chiropractor, or do so regularly.

Here’s an article from a chiropractic practitioner called Chiropractic: Does the Bad Outweigh the Good?. A version of this article was published in the Skeptical Inquirer a few years back.

Check out the article, because it’s the type of balanced, critical attitude that chiropractors often lack.

As a group, chiropractors are fractured and cannot come to a consensus about whether they should let go of the mumbo-jumbo at the heart of chiropractic: the notion that “subluxations” cause disease. A subluxation, in chiropractic, is essentially an excuse for a spinal manipulation. People who have tried to get chiropractors to agree on what a subluxation is have been met with various answers from “they can’t be seen on an x-ray” to “buzz off, Dr. Skeptic!”

Chiropractic treatment can relieve some types of back pain. Unfortunately, there are a lot of chiropractors like the one I hear on the radio who try to push chiropractic treatment as a cure for other diseases, based on this subluxation theory of chiropractic which claims that subluxations affect nerves and they in turn cause ailments in the organs. Like asthma. And cancer.

It’s bullshit, pure and simple, and it kills people. And if your chiropractor ever tells you that he can help you with anything other than your back pain — even if it’s your headaches — your quackdar should go up and you should proceed very carefully from there, if not just get up, leave, and look for a real doctor.

I’ll leave you with a quote from another article called “Why Becoming a Chiropractor May Be Risky” which I found on an excellent database of critical chiropractic information. The article is by Dr. William T. Jarvis.

Chiropractic encourages self-delusion. One of the saddest stories I have encountered is that of a young chiropractic student with breast cancer who was so enthused over chiropractic’s possibilities that she decided to make herself a documented test case. She died an agonizing death from untreated cancer but never lost faith in chiropractic’s basic principles. Chiropractic has failed the most fundamental scientific requirements that it define itself, determine its clinical usefulness and limitations, and conduct basic research on its mechanisms of action. Yet its public-relations spin-doctors attempt to portray chiropractic on an equal plane with scientific medicine by stating that both have their place. They maintain that both medicine and chiropractic have failings (and therefore the two are equal). These comparisons remind me of an experience I had as a boy while ice-skating in Minnesota. At the rink that I frequented, novices would skate around the edge while Olympians practiced in the middle. When an elite figure-skater fell while trying to do a triple Lutz, an old man who was shuffling around on his skates said with a twinkle, “I also fall down when I try to do a triple Lutz!”

Because of the self-delusion at the heart of the practice, you’re going to have to rely more on your own judgment than that of your chiropractor. Be careful out there!

Posted by James at 8:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2008

Chiropractic Mayhem

F.A.S.T isn't a recommendation to call your chiropractor.

Fancy that!

After the blanket denial comes the wild swinging.

To some people, criticism of chiropractic is a serious matter because it has the potential of hitting them were it hurts -- in their pocketbooks. For others, higher awareness of chiropractic bullshit could give them the information they need to avoid a risky neck manipulation and save them from a stroke. This is information that some chiropractors are reluctant to reveal.

The first problem, described in my previous post, is that criticism is met with swift and automatic denials, rather than introspection. Chiropractors would rather believe their methods are safe than know they are safe. That's because it's easier to sell if you're deeper into the delusion. They're supposedly trained to inform of the risks, but apparently that training loses out when it comes to pumping up the bottom line.

The next problem is that chiropractors are all over the map. In responses to my last post, we have one "Dr." saying that people present with stroke symptoms when they arrive for the neck manipulation. But the other "Dr." says that these strokes are not medically detectable. So, which is it? What we have here is a group of people who only hear what benefits them, or twist the research to tar medicine equally.

In reality,there are hard-to-detect medical conditions which, if exacerbated by a neck manipulation will lead to stroke. That's not a "maybe."

Most patients undergoing therapeutic neck manipulation will have no ill effects, but there is no doubt that chiropractic neck manipulation can result in dissection of the carotid or vertebral arteries leading to stroke. Until a high-risk group can be identified, chiropractors should inform all patients of possible serious complications before neck manipulation. This is already emphasized in their current training programs.

Emphasis mine. That means your neck can be like a stick of dynamite and when you walk into a chiropractor's office he says to you "care for a light?"

On the local radio there's a chiropractor who spends most of his time trying to scare people about mainstream medicine -- you know, the kind of medicine that is based on science. The science that is peer reviewed, and not just by other chiropractors. Chiropractors should spend less time trying to scare people and drinking their own Kool-Aid. More time should be spent looking at independent scientific research.

If someone tries to sell you a neck adjustment, just remember that they can't tell when that stroke is lying in wait in your carotid artery, just waiting for someone to unleash it.

The suggestion (still haven't seen a reference to the study) that people have the same incidence of stroke if they present with certain symptoms almost sounds like the setup to a joke. Considering F.A.S.T. action is necessary to increase your chances of recovery from a stroke, where would you rather be when you have one? In a hospital or in a chiropractor's office?


Posted by James at 10:37 AM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2008

A Chiropractic Reaction

And here's another thing about chiropractic which annoys me.

I drew your attention to an article on CNN.com about the risk of stroke following neck adjustment. The reaction from a chiropractic supporter is "Horse Hockey."

This cuts to the heart of the problem.

The woman in the story who was not warned of the danger that her neck adjustment placed on her. She was only given a vague "some people have a bad reaction" line of bullshit. Is "stroke" too technical a medical term for the general public to understand? No, this chiropractor was following a typical pattern of bullshit which pads his wallet while other people are taking a dangerous and sometimes catastrophic risk. The woman in the story is one of the people who paid the price, both literally and figuratively. This chiropractor is living in denial and all too willing to invite his customers into that world.

Denial, swift and absolute, even when it is couched in a folksy phrase (ironically known for its utterance by a main character on M.A.S.H - a show where actors, instead of chiropractors, play doctors) is chiropractic's disease of the mind. On an individual level it denies chiropractic customers accurate information with which to assess their risk. On a community level it permits things like a chiropractic theory of disease to survive within their ranks. It allows them to avoid the rigor of scientific methods.

In this abstract from the Canadian Stroke Consortium, you can find the following quotation:

Collaboration with our chiropractic colleagues is crucial to understanding and resolving the association between sudden neck movement and stroke. Blanket denial or distortion of our data from various quarters can only delay discovery of the necessary facts at the expense of the well-being of patients.

But, of course, the longer such research is delayed, the longer chiropractors can usher a credulous public through their doors to receive another risky neck-cracking.

"Horse hockey?" Introspection is not a virtue of chiropractic. Because sometimes the cure kills the cash cow.

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Posted by James at 1:17 PM | Comments (10)

March 21, 2008

Way Cool Jesus Shotgun

Jesus was way cool.

OK, not much of a linkdump this week. Been busy. In honor of outreach between Bunnyween and Christianity, we're honoring Jesus with a video sent along by Patti.


Posted by James at 1:07 PM | Comments (1)

Crack and a Stroke?

This must be "Quack Day" on Aces Full. Next time you go in for a chiropractic adjustment, ask them for the Deluxe Stroke-Inducing Neck-Crack.

"I was shocked," she says. "I didn't know you could have a stroke from chiropractic treatment. And I didn't know you could have a stroke so young."

You mean they didn't really explain the risks? I'm shocked, too!

[...]holding her head in both hands and turning her neck quickly but gently to the right and to the left. Although the pain didn't go away, Harwe did get some temporary relief, so she scheduled another appointment for a few days later. This time, when the doctor turned her head to the left, she felt nauseated and heard "the sound of the ocean in my head," she remembers. The chiropractor quickly did an adjustment in the other direction, then asked Harwe to sit up. She couldn't -- the whole left side of her body felt limp and numb -- and she couldn't speak, either.

For reference, here are some stroke warning signs:

  • Sudden trouble seeing.
  • Sudden weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • You're in a chiropractic office and some guy playing doctor is cracking your neck

Now, enjoy some Penn and Teller.

BTW, CNN must be worried about upsetting chiropractors, because the headline to their story was "Birth control pills, salon haircuts can raise stroke risk" but the chance of having a stroke because of a beauty salon visit was considered much less of a risk than chiropractic, according to the article.

Maybe CNN is afraid that chiropractors are going to slip a few subluxations into an envelope and mail them to the health staff writers.

To tie this all together with the last post:

When the polio epidemic was at its peak in the mid-1950s and the Salk vaccine was being promoted for immunization against poliomyelitis, the National Chiropractic Association campaigned against polio vaccination and recommended chiropractic adjustments for preventing and treating the disease.

If you were rooting for the disease to win, remember to thank a chiropractor.

Posted by James at 12:40 PM | Comments (3)

Biological Terrorists Have Your Kids In Their Sights

OK, the people don't actually fit my definition of terrorist, but the diseases don't care if the kill you. The consequences of undervaccination are measurable and dangerous. You only have to look at past outbreaks that plagued countries after popular anti-vaccine movements swept through the public.

The United States will soon be set up for a similar outbreak, and the ones who suffer the most will be children. Many of those children will have been vaccinated, but since a vaccine is only 95% (or so) effective, their saving grace would have been to live a community that is free of certain dangerous diseases. Instead, some of these children will be surrounded by people who are nutty enough to have parties where they spread diseases from child to child willingly. As if the disease is some sort of family friend.

It's as though these folks are bio-terrorist sympathizers, more willing to let the disease have its way than to participate in safeguarding the community. Diseases do not have inelligence, or intention. They exist to spread and infect. Illness is the direct side effect of them turning your body into a disease-producing factory. The deaths they cause are merely collateral damage. Vaccine exempters are aware of that, are even witness to the spread of actual disease among the population, but do not want to participate in protection.

Ms. Carlson said she understood what was at stake. "I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk," she said.

[...]

"If you have clusters of exemptions, you increase the risk of exposing everyone in the community," said Dr. Omer, who has extensively studied disease outbreaks and vaccines.

Well, at least they know the cost of their decision. It's too bad your children are the ones paying that cost.

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Posted by James at 8:44 AM | Comments (3)

March 19, 2008

"God Talk" Oversimplified, Confuses

More than once, I've seen a comment like the following:

When Bush talks about God, you liberals get all upset. But when x talks about God, you give him a pass.

Imagine "x" to be some liberal politician. Barack Obama is a good contemporary example, but it doesn't really matter who.

This comment, and the sentiments behind it, are an excellent example of how a simplistic view of people, boiled down to labels, is misleading. Although it isn't mentioned by name in the comment, the label "atheist" hang in the air because, presumably, liberal atheists don't like it when people talk about their gods.

And this is one of the reasons I'm not very fond of the term "atheist." It leads some people to some strange assumptions. I won't beat a dead horse about it, but you should already know that "atheist" is a negative term, which tells you next to nothing about what I do believe.

So let me explain, in very brief form, how this liberal atheist -- or, better, a liberal humanist -- processes incoming information. Since I don't believe in "God" I see the concept of God often acting like a megaphone. "God" is used to hammer a point home with believers. Whatever your message is, you put God behind it and some people take special notice.

If someone is telling me about how his god has given him the right to do this or that, or that God is smiling upon the destruction of this or that group of people, or gives him license to deny rights to some corner of our population, I see the underlying message. I disagree with it, often very strongly. I see that he's using religion to beat this idea into people. Not only does that make me wonder about what religion has taught this individual, it annoys me that he's trying to spread it.

If, on the other hand, someone is talking about how his god told him we have to treat each other better, or that his belief in God is leading him to pay attention to inequities in our own society, again I am filtering out the god to get to the underlying message.

I am a concerned that we get a president who reflects humanist values. I will prefer a Christian, Jewish or Muslim humanist to any sort of person who does not represent humanism, in my view. To deny that there is a large population of religious humanists to draw from would place an unacceptable limit on the chances of getting a humanist president.

So, if you've determined that liberals are hypocritical for taking some politicians to task when they reference God in speeches, you may have missed something. maybe you're talking to a humanist. When those speeches either use God cynically,as empty rhetoric or, to erode out society's humanism, some of us are disgusted. If you have a very limited idea of the motivation of a liberal humanist, you might find it unnecessarily confusing.

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Posted by James at 9:47 AM | Comments (5)

March 18, 2008

Goodbye, Arthur

Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

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Posted by James at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

Bagels Riddle

Here's a riddle of sorts. There's a story I think Maggie is going to post on her blog. But before she does, I wanted to pose this riddle and see what you come up with.

Maggie is trying to buy poppy seed bagels. She pays for 4 bagels and leaves the shop with the bag. When she gets home, she realizes she has been given 5 poppy seed bagels, even though she has been charged for 4. This upsets her. Why?

Feel free to make guesses. I'll also answer yes-or-no questions.

[ UPDATE: Maggie has posted the story on her blog. For those who want to skip to the answer. ]

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Posted by James at 9:56 AM | Comments (33)

March 17, 2008

Happy Evacuation Day

No, today isn't the day that we drink green-tinted magnesium citrate and sing Celtic songs in the bathroom. "Evacuation Day" is a state holiday, of sorts, that celebrates the day the British left the Town of Boston.

According to Captain John Barker, they would have left on the 13th, but the wind was unfavorable. It remained so through the 16th, so I guess there was improvement when the British military woke up on the morning of the 17th. Or they were just plain turned off by all the green beer and people vomiting.

Here in Bristol County, we tend to call the day "St. Patrick's Day" and we use it to celebrate being Irish. Or pretending to be Irish.

If you're of the green-beer-drinking persuasion, I can understand why you'd want to limit your consumption to one day per year. If you actually enjoy Irish beer, I doubt you're going to want to save the Guinness for a single day in March. It's all very confusing to me, which is why I decided to spend the day with my wife instead of going to work. And have pledged to drink no green beer. Just an ounce or so of Jameson last night before bed. Followed by a heavy sleep. Quite abruptly.

It's Spring Break at the university, so there is no class. There, I said it.

Evacuation Day means that some schools are closed and state offices have an official holiday. During university vacation time, they make it a "floating" holiday. That means you can take it now when you are really busy or tell your boss that you'd like to take it at some other time when you're really busy in the next 2 months or so. It does not mean "a holiday during which you drink enough beer to float your liver." But there is some confusion on this point.

A happy day to you all, and don't let the amateur revelers get you down.

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Posted by James at 10:01 AM | Comments (4)

March 14, 2008

Pi Day Shotgun

Posted by James at 10:00 AM | Comments (7)

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day!

Enjoy however you've decided to celebrate.

We're having pie at 1:59:26PM. Hopefully an Oreo-type pie and an apple pie, depending on what we find at the supermarket. There was no time to bake.

UPDATE:

Thanks, PJ, for reminding me that it's also Einstein's birthday. Of course, I was just telling this to Maggie before I posted, and my memory is so poor that I forgot to mention it in my Pi day post. I'll make it up by posting a second video, this one of Einstein quotes set to Mozart:

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

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Posted by James at 9:46 AM | Comments (4)

March 12, 2008

Once Around the News

A Man Named Tuesday

Sorry, I didn't get past the first sentence of this story. I've heard of a woman named Tuesday, but never a man named Tuesday.

A man named Tuesday as a person of interest in the disappearance of a Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, couple appears to have committed suicide, authorities said.

OK. it was early in the morning.

Gilligan's High-land

Dawn Wells, of Gilligan's Island fame as castaway Mary Ann, was busted on posession of marijuanna. I struggled with the headline. Mary Ann's Mary Jane? Both are groaners.

Cat Bounty

Both in the sense that there are too many of them and in the sense that people are being encourage to collect them up and deliver them to the authorities. If you need some extra cash, and like to herd cats, head on over to Randolph, Iowa. It's $5 per cat.

Local News of the Weird

Stabby Abduction

A man kidnapped his ex-girlfriend at knifepoint, abducting her from Somerset to Fall River. OK, Fall River's got its problems, but it's not so bad that you have to start abducting people to boost the population!

In any case, here's an important safety tip for would-be-abductees. NEVER LET ANYONE COERCE YOU INTO A CAR. Not with a knife or a gun or anything. If they're thretening to stab or shoot you, it's not like getting into the car is going to improve your situation. Because now you can be driven somewhere a lot more advantageous to your attacker. And that's not a good thing for the abductee. Tell your friends.

Video Game Violence

A dispute over whether the kids should play video games turns ugly.

A 57-year-old Chace Street grandmother was allegedly assaulted by her 31-year-old daughter after the daughter discovered that the grandmother had let her grandchildren play video games while she and her husband baby-sat.

If you think video games are bad for your kids, wait until you see the statistics on the effect of havng your mother beat up your grandmother. (Hint: mom-on-granny violence is a a decent predictor for showing up on the Jerry Springer show). No word on whether it was the violence in video games that had caused the mother to ban them, or whether the kids had simply given them up for Lent.

Posted by James at 8:41 AM | Comments (7)

March 10, 2008

Jive vs. Jibe

You may have heard of the infamous "puppy-throwing video" that circulated on YouTube. This post is not about that story, but about a peeve of mine that happens to appear in the reporting about the story. I'm not saying this is a huge peeve, but it's Monday morning on the day after we switched over to DST, so I'm cranky.

"The sound of the puppy screaming doesn't seem to jive with his rapidly increasing distance," said Mersereau, who noted that the group is working with poor quality video from the Internet and not the original tape.

In case it doesn't bug you as much as it bugs me, that's an incorrect use of the word "jive." I think Martin Mersereau means "The sound of the screaming puppy doesn't seem to jibe with..."

This is jive:

But I think the definition of "jibe" is what Martin really meant:

jibe: To be in accord; agree: Your figures jibe with mine.

So, someone needs to buy PETA a dictionary.

[[ UPDATE: Thanks to David and Patti, I have replaced the video with a much more appropriate one. ]]

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Posted by James at 9:20 AM | Comments (10)

March 9, 2008

Wiki Weekend

Today's Wiki Weekend link is the entry on NATO phonetic alphabet.

The NATO phonetic alphabet, more formally the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet, is the most widely used spelling alphabet. Though often called "phonetic alphabets", spelling alphabets have no connection to phonetic transcription systems like the International Phonetic Alphabet. Instead, the NATO alphabet assigns code words to the letters of the English alphabet acrophonically so that critical combinations of letters (and numbers) can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of their native language, especially when the safety of navigation or persons is essential. The paramount reason is to ensure intelligibility of voice signals over radio links.

My first professional exposure to the NATO phonetic alphabet was when I was working on a naval defense contract in the productions of combat control systems for submarines. This spelling alphabet is used sometimes in the code-naming of things. In my experience you'd see these names when Americans were talking about semi-secret enemy technology for which we did not know the real name. Example: the Mike class submarine, and a number of other subs in the Russian navy.

That's the first time I tried to memorize it. it's not that tough to memorize, although it's easier if you try to use it now and again.

It's very handy for use over the phone. If the person on the oater end is at least familiar with the concept (and most people catch on quick, even if they have never heard of such a thing) it beats the slow and laborious '"P' as in 'Pete'" method where, for every letter, you have to come up with a word on the fly that is easily distinguishable. "Excuse me, did you just say 'B' as in "Beet?'" The folks who came up with the NATO alphabet have thought of all that for you. These words are easy to distinguish on the hearing end, and that's the whole point.

There is always the danger that someone will just think you're trying to sound like the military when you use the NATO alphabet, but don't let that worry you. Standardizing on one spelling alphabet is good for communications.

The words comprising composing the phonetic alphabet are as follows:

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Opera, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu

I always have trouble remembering:

Golf, Juliet, Papa, Sierra, Yankee

The last, probably because I am a Red Sox fan.

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Posted by James at 7:27 PM | Comments (10)

That's not Reporting, That's Enabling

An Obama adviser resigned after making an absolutely inappropriate comment about Hillary. It was good to see the Obama campaign follow through on the values we've come to expect from their organization.

She tried to catch herself right after making the comment, invoking the phrase "off the record." But the interview was already on the record, so there are no do-overs. There is such a thing as an off-the-record comment. It's something that is agreed upon before the interview. But once the ground rules are laid, interviews are on-the-record.

This Glen Greenwald article in Salon discusses the observation, from The Scotsman's Gerri Peev, that some American reporters might have honored the "off-the-record" request. And why the media is shirking its duty if it plays into an inflated sense of confidentiality from public officials.

We need more reporting like Gerri Peev's. Our media ought not be so sensitive of the confidentiality of officials that they become mouthpieces of a campaign.

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Posted by James at 11:53 AM | Comments (2)

March 7, 2008

This Week In Regime Turnover

The first week over at Regime Turnover was a lively one, with everyone participating. Over 30 posts in a week and tons of comments. It is not too surprising considering there was a big primary in there.

I expect this election season will continue to be "interesting." We're discussing our frustration with candidates, their supporters, and each other. What'll happen with Michigan and Florida is a point of interest, as are Nine Inch Nails, McCain's flip flops, John Hagee, and NAFTA.

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Posted by James at 11:38 PM | Comments (5)

Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax Memorial Cat

I didn't know much about Gary Gygax except that he created Dungeons and Dragons. I bought a book he wrote about creating fantasy games and read some of it when I was a teenager. But I think I am more cut out to play games than to create them. My creative talents run in a different direction.

The state gave us a floating holiday when Reagan died to mourn the popular president how we saw fit. I wish Massachusetts would declare a day of gaming in memory of Gygax. It cannot be understated how much fun role playing games can be, and how much bonding over shared experiences can happen among people across some stat sheets and dice. My website is named after a character I never would have created if Gary had not popularized roleplaying, so clearly it's left its mark on me.

I can say in all honestly that I think the world would be a better place if more people were involved in role playing.


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Posted by James at 11:34 AM | Comments (7)

Phun Shotgun

BONUS: LOLthulu

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Posted by James at 11:02 AM | Comments (2)

Jury nullification is American Dissent

I'm not big fan of America's drug war. But in a recent conversation I made some approving comments about busts of drug dealers in a Massachusetts high school. All drug busts involve a deceptive tactic, since no knowingly selling to a cop is the same as turning yourself in. But this bust involved social aspects that some found questionable. I was a little over-zealous in my defense of the busts.

While I don't think that there ought to be people selling drugs in school, the experience taught me something about myself, and about how easy and quickly it is to get overzealous with one's emotions when we feel we need to protect society from a perceived danger.

I feel that America's drug war is that reaction writ large and that it has become institutionalized and ingrained to the point where it is a pathological aspect of our society.

A friend responded to the drug bust story saying that she would hang the jury, were she seated in that trial. I read a similar statement in an article in Time Magazine tonight.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will - to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty - no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest.

Is our government capable of fixing the drug war by stopping it? Politicians are addicted to the idea of outdoing each other in showing how ruthless they will be toward crime, so they have no motivation or credibility on taking an honest look at what our war on drugs has done to society. If drugs have wounded our society, then the drug war has poured gasoline into that wound and lit it ablaze. I don't understand how otherwise compassionate people can look at the situation and say it's helping.

The quotation above is from an article by the writers of the HBO television program The Wire. It's one of the best shows I've seen in the last three years. I urge you to rent it on DVD. It's not a documentary, just good TV. The dissent suggested is their response to viewers who ask them how to fix the drug war that destroys lives and is portrayed in their TV show. The show offers little hope for a solution, because there is no political will to actually change anything. Change must come from elsewhere.

Jury nullification is a power of jurors, one that judges omit when the juries are being instructed about their rights and responsibilities. A juror may refuse to deliver a verdict based on the law as instructed by the judge. I have often heard jurors say "the judge told us the law, so we really only had to decide whether he had broken the law." That's not true. There is the possibility that you disagree with the law, or think it is being applied unjustly. If that is the case, it behooves you to nullify. Don't expect the court to tell you this.

If enough juries nullify a law, it becomes a dead letter.

I can't tell you which laws are just. But I suggest you do consider that question when you are faced with a jury situation. Are you being asked to bring a verdict for a just law? If not, nullification as an option you might not have realized you had.

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Posted by James at 12:52 AM | Comments (16)

March 6, 2008

Spencers Under Fire

"They even picked up a phallic-shaped cup."

When I was a kid, my Mom didn't take me into "Spencer Gifts." And by the time I was in high school, and was able to wander around the Mall unattended, she must have figured that if I were to wander in there I wouldn't be harmed by anything I saw.

Apparently, today, some parents aren't content to rely on parenting. They are appalled that their child could go into Spencer's and see cartoon penises. Of course, they could tell the kids "don't go into Spencer's." But since they have no faith in their children, they want Spencer Gifts to change.

This video/story from a North Carolina local ABC affiliate tells the story of these parents who want something done about Spencer Gifts.

They conducted a hidden camera investigation, sending in 13 year old girls to buy objectionable items. They were shocked when the girls were sold the items, one of which had a suggested age rating of 18 or older. Nobody bothers to point out whether those age ratings are enforced or proscribed by law. My understanding is that they are voluntary recommendations from the manufacturer and not enforceable by law. The second Spencer Gifts they investigated did hassle a second group of youngsters in the store, and would not sell them the items.

What struck me initially was that these people appear to think that Spencer Gifts has changed over the years. Here's a news flash: Spencer Gifts is not getting more edgy. You're getting old.

I remember it being quite risque when I was a youngster. Although my parents didn't take me shopping in there, they did tell me what sort of stuff was in there. And I did see some of it when I got a little bit older. I object to the historical revisionism of middle age. Note, when you were a kid, and before you were even born:

  • People had sex
  • People told dirty jokes
  • People drew pictures of genitalia
  • People somehow found a way to balance those things with raising children, often without passing laws

Spencer Gifts is a tacky, tasteless gift shop. You can't legislate tact or good taste.

The parents were not mollified when they saw the second store did stop the kids from buying stuff. The argument then became "we don't even want the kids to see penis cartoons!" Lady -So don't take your kids in there!

These are the same people who have convinced you that movies are getting more and more rude and crude. if you're ever bored and want to try a fun experiment, rent some "PG" movies from the 70's and early 80's and compare them to today's PG and PG-13 movies. Guess what - movies have become almost completely sanitized when it comes to risque content and language. Don't rent a rated "R" movie from the 70's. Your post-millennial sensibilities will not be able to handle the shock.

I completely appreciate that some people have good taste. We'd never allow half of the stuff at Spencer Gifts in our house. That's why we choose not to shop there. (But when I was a teen, it was the only place I could get a decent black light bulb.) Make your own decisions for yourself. Please, stop trying to make other people's decisions for them. The endgame of this scenario is to make it so difficult for places like Spencer Gifts to exist that they can't exist for anyone.

It brings to mind the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. I highly recommend it. It tells the tale of the runaway, twisted hyper morality that has given us films with overblown violence and nonexistent sex. It reveals that right-wing Christian moralists who prefer to remain anonymous judge films harshly for any sort of what they deem sexual content, but give a pass to all sorts of killing and violence. A tiny bit of Maria Bello's pubic hair shows up in a loving, intimate scene and the MPAA raters hit the roof. But they don't bat an eye when a killer stabs a woman through her breast implants in a similarly rated film.

Something is wrong.

I understand if people don't like certain aspects of society. But, for the good of a free society, you need to ease off on trying to sanitize it. You think you're doing good for the community, but you're making decisions for adults, who should have the freedom to make those decisions for themselves. Your morality is not demonstrably superior to their own. So, ease off. And teach your kids about how you think their world should be. And let them become adults and decide for themselves.

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Posted by James at 9:57 AM | Comments (10)

March 5, 2008

Old vs. New

Old and Busted: SUPER TUESDAY!!!

New and Improved: We'll-Call-The-Next-One-Super TUESDAY!!!

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Posted by James at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

March 4, 2008

How Small Is Rhode Island?

Rhode Island is so small that if you call 5 Ocean State citizens who might consider supporting Obama, Barack would win the primary there, even though the projections favored Hillary.

I kid because I love you, Rhode Island.

But seriously, I'm not kidding. Call those people.

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Posted by James at 2:37 PM | Comments (5)

23.3 Million Reasons Not To Use Airborne

Airbornes

Overpriced, prittified, and deceptively marketed vitamin supplement "Airborne" has agreed to pay back some of the money they successfully marketed out of the pockets of consumers who figure that if a company says that it's got research to back its claims, that research is done by scientists rather than by two guys in a garage.

The makers of Airborne-a multivitamin and herbal supplement whose labels and ads falsely claimed that the product cures and prevents colds-will refund money to consumers who bought the product, as part of a $23.3 million class action settlement agreement. [...]

...in February 2006, ABC News revealed on Good Morning America that Airborne's much-touted lone clinical trial was actually conducted without any doctors or scientists, just a "two-man operation started up just to do the Airborne study." Soon after the plaintiff notified Airborne of his intent to file suit in March 2006, the company stopped mentioning the study and began toning down the overt cold-curing claims in favor of vague "immunity boosting" language. [...]

"There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment," said CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt, who reviewed Airborne's claims. "Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that's been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed."

Eat a variety of foods including vegetables. Exercise once in a while. Wash your hands before you eat or touch your face. It'll have a more measurable effect than taking Airborne.

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Posted by James at 2:45 AM | Comments (8)

March 3, 2008

Top 10 Failed Names for Scientology

Making up your own religion -- that's where the real money is. Or so went the thinking of L. Ron Hubbard. And if you're going to make up your own religion, you need good marketing to compete with the long-established brand names.

People who pick on Scientology ignore the real work that went into building it up into what it is today. Even choosing a name was crucial. It had to tap into the mysterious allure of the promise of science without having anything to do with existing science. In precise terms, it had to sound sciency without sounding religiousy.

Here are the top 10 rejected names for Scientology.

  1. Religionology -- Rejected for being to religiony.
  2. Scienterifficness -- Rejected for being too peppy.
  3. Scientawesome -- Overstates the awesomness.
  4. Ripoffology -- Sounds too much like it's going to teach you how to rip other people off. Misleading.
  5. Pseudoscience -- Taken
  6. Science-ology -- Folks were put off by the hyphen
  7. Scienceness -- Too wishy-washy
  8. Hubbardism -- Close! Tempting but... nah.
  9. Carnival of Thetans -- People would expect fried dough at every meeting. No go.
  10. Scamologreedy -- Gives it all away in the name.

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Posted by James at 11:36 PM | Comments (6)

Wiki Weekend - Pistachios

This weekend, I looked up "pistachio."

The pistachio (Pistacia vera L., Anacardiaceae ; sometimes placed in Pistaciaceae) is a small tree up to 10 m tall, native to mountainous regions of Iran, Turkmenistan and western Afghanistan. It has deciduous pinnate leaves 10-20 cm long

.I was specifically interested in why the pistachios people eat as a snack are sometimes covered with a dye.

The shell of the pistachio is naturally a beige colour, but it is sometimes dyed red or green in commercial pistachios. Originally the dye was applied by importers to hide stains on the shells caused when the nuts were picked by hand. However most pistachios are now picked by machine and the shells remain unstained, making dyeing unnecessary (except that some consumers have been led to expect coloured pistachios). Roasted pistachio nuts turn naturally red if they are marinated prior to roasting in a salt and strawberry marinade, or salt and citrus salts.

I'd hardly say that applying a marinade of salt and strawberries is natural, unless pistachios tend to naturally fall into such a bath.

I found it intriguing that pistachios may calm physical stress reactions. From Science Daily:

"A ten-year follow-up study of young men showed that those who had larger cardiovascular responses to stress in the lab, were more likely to contract hypertension later in life," says Dr. Sheila G. West, associate professor of biobehavioral health. "Elevated reactions to stressors are partly genetic, but can be changed by diet and exercise. Lifestyle changes can make the biological reactions to stress smaller."

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Posted by James at 8:54 AM | Comments (2)

March 2, 2008

Obama SNL Cartoon

This video on SNL last night made me laugh.

(It's quite possible the video will be removed shortly)

[[ UPDATE 1: Oops, yep. It's gone and I can't find it on the SNL website. Oh well. I've included a detailed description at the end of the post.]]

[[UPDATE 2: Here's one form of the video, up for however long it remains up.]]

The joke here is that Obama is keeping the often polarizing figures of Sharpton and Jackson at arm's length. I found it funny, but apparently some people found it to be racist. You can see some of that discussion here on this DailyKos diary.

The people complaining are reacting to some of the symbolism in the video, specifically the electric collar. Robert Smigel ought to be cut some slack here. I've seen him use all sorts of similarly silly devices in a number of his cartoons to exaggerate a point. Maybe it's tasteless, but I doubt there is any racist intention or influence. Perhaps the real problem is that it could be misinterpreted as racist.

But I believe there is an important difference between something that is racist and something that can be misinterpreted as racist. Just as there is a difference between bigotry and insensitivity.

Is the cartoon insensitive? I suppose so, because the author apparently offended the sensibilities of a number of people. But I also thought it attempted to make an important point in satirical form. I strongly suspect that some of the negative reaction to this cartoon is masking concern about the accuracy of the underlying message.


"The Obama Files" Video Description:

Obama is at a campaign event and Jesse Jackson shows up. While Michelle distracts the press by vomiting, Barack takes Jesse into a broom closet for a secret meeting where it becomes obvious that Obama has been sending him on wild goose chases to keep him occupied during the campaign. he sends him off to an African nation (which may or may not exist) and tells him to bring back some sort of rare zebra.

Later, Obama is being interviewed by Brian Williams. Al Sharpton shows up, having returned from a wild goose chase of his own. An Obama aide tranquilizes Williams to give the senator a moment alone with Sharpton. Barack tells Sharpton to meet him to the next speaking event, and gives Al some special jewelry which turns out to be one of those electric fence-type collars. Once he puts it on, he can't get near the speaking event.

Sharpton and Jackson decide to masquerade as podiums and crash the event, replacing the real podium. But Obama is ready for them with a trap door. In the end, they are spirited away (along with Bill Clinton and Chuck Norris -- refugees from other campaigns) to some vacation destination where they will trouble no one. And they sell their story to the Wayans brothers.

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Posted by James at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

March 1, 2008

Feeling Political?

As you know, I don't shy away from politics on my blog. But there are so many little stories I want to post, just links and stuff without long comments, that I fear it would bog Aces Full of Links down with mostly political content. Especially as the election nears.

So, instead of posting it here, I've got a new group blog going. It's called Regime Turnover. I hope it will be fun, lively, and focused on the upcoming election. The authors there are pretty progressive-types, so you won't see much rooting for McCain or Bush.

Toss it on your RSS feed if you're interested.

Don't worry; I still plan to post the occasional extended, boring, political commentary here.

Posted by James at 9:56 PM | Comments (0)