Friday, March 23, 2007

A History of Man

Odd. From PZ Meyers, it's got some weird themes going on in there with some quite explicit pornography, both the sexual and violent kinds. There are themes in there, but oddball ones.

Not work safe.

Student Complaints

Geoff was having some trouble in a class recently, so I advised him to go to his professor's office hours. It's generally a good move as a) the professor (or TA) can often help and b) almost no one ever goes and its very tough to fail someone who shows up and asks for help.

OTOH, some students seem too intimidated when instructors use their words and avoid this.

Another story from an aspiring writer.

Mind Fields

Another step forward for technotelepathy.

Hinode’s first images of our violent Sun

Lifted from the comments section. Very cool stuff

Thursday, March 22, 2007

American Atheists Convention

Week after next, in Seattle. I had no idea this was coming, but now that I know, I might as well go.
This talk seems like it would be interesting:

Dr. Henry Jones is a physician and psychiatrist. He recently retired from his career in clinical psychiatry. During his years in psychiatry he had the opportunity to evaluate serial murderers, serial rapists and pedophiles. He also evaluated seriously ill psychotic patients, and of course less disturbed neurotic patients. He recently completed a book in which he outlines what he learned in 40 years evaluating over 2,000 mentally ill patients. He will discuss the psychological destructiveness of religious belief.
The Title of Dr. Jones’ talk is “The Manufacture of Mental Illness”.

Friedman on Nuclear Power

David Friedman finally says something I can agree with: Ideas: Nuclear Power and Global Warming

Nuclear power is completely within human control to do correctly, causes no damage to the atmosphere and could be done completely safely. There is no good scientific reason not to go nuclear. From an environmental perspective, the damage done by a handful of power plants going up (the worst possible scenario), is trivial compared to the possible damage to the atmosphere of using fossil fuels for the next five or six centuries.I'm not generally a fan of David's, I think his posts tend to simplify complex things and in doing so, remove most of the problems. It generally doesn't mean the problems aren't there, but it's a lot more work than I would want to go through to add them back in. (BTW, he does this later in his thread on global warming on sea temperatures, conflating the minor energy going to mechanical movement of winds with the huge energy transport to the poles, which he ignores. There's a great example on Jupiter of why this is not the right way to look at this where storms get trapped at the poles and mechanical dispersion is the major energy-loss mode so the storms last for centuries).

That said, I agree with him here.

While I think the evidence for human caused global warming is indicative but not conclusive, I can see why people jump to that conclusion. If global warming is human caused, goes the logic, then it must be within our grasp to stop it. Not likely, but it gives folks a sense of control over the environment, and the ability to "do something". Understandable, but probably wrong.

Now You're Thinking With Portals

This seems like an interesting game.

There is a quick 10 second scene where two portals are next to each other on the floor and an object is bouncing up and down between them at a certain frequency. It turns out that's also the exact same mathematical model for how the sun moves in the galaxy.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


From PZ Meyers. My jaw dropped. Some info about Jehovah's Witnesses views of cats...

Indeed, modern studies of classification of cats, while not necessarily being reliable as they may be based on the discredited 'theory' of evolution, strongly associate felines with serpents (despite some external differences in physiology and morphology, which confuse those who do not study these matters deeply).

also, echoing Dr. Nick's "you can't prove it's not true" logic:

The Bible does not say that cats were not present at Herod's birthday party when John the Baptist was beheaded. History shows that cats were most likely present at this tragic party that Jehovah did not approve of.

Something I don't get

... and would appreciate an explanation, if one is available. The justice department reports to the executive branch, which is separate from the legislative and judicial branches. Legislative makes the laws, executive enforces them and judicial adjucates them.
Got that.
Congress can subpoena testimony and charge people with contempt and lying to congress. We had a valuable lesson in that 10 years ago.
isn't it up to the justice department to charge and prosecute the people congress charges? If members of the president's administration get charged for lying to congress or refusing a subpoena, isn't it ultimately up to the president himself to have those charges enforced? Given that this whole thing is centered around the charge that the justice department was making political decisions, it seems likely the president would refuse to press charges against his administration.
I know Congress can chose to hold it's own trial on charges, but again, other than impeachment, is there anything they can do assuming a guilty verdict? Is there a congressional prison somewhere?(If so, I expected it is lavishly appointed and comes with franking privileges...)

Seems like the president holds the trump cards.

Edit: Some info from the heads at Volohk:
Congress has independent standing to seek a judicial order enforcing its subpoenas. They simply have a committee staff lawyer draft up a motion for an order to show cause and file it with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Court will issue an order setting out a briefing and argument schedule, and it will go forward like any other case. Subpoena enforcement is not that hard, either in concept or execution.

But... How Will I Open Jars?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Horse Humor

Ted and Ed were racehorses, but more than that, they were best friends. They would spend long hours strolling through sunlit glades with the stable dog bouncing happily through the dandelions at their hooves. As best friends, they would talk about past races or maybe about the latest stable gossip. Sometimes they would stand quietly for long hours, enjoying the shade and eating the tall grasses in the meadows.One day, the stable boy rushed in to the stable with exciting news.

“Ted! Ed! You guys are going to race!”

Ed cast a sidelong glace at Ted and snickered, “Imagine that – the two fastest racehorses… racing.”

Ted whinnied and shook his head.“No, no,” said the stable boy, “You don’t understand! You’re racing against each other in three races this week!”

Ted and Ed looked at each other. In all their long years of friendship, the two had never once raced against each other. Ted was the first to speak, “This is interesting. Let’s go for a walk and figure this out.”

“Good idea,” said Ed.

They walked in silence for a long time, both secretly wondering if their friendship could hold up against the competition. Maybe they were only friends because they had never raced. Maybe two racehorses could never really be friends. Ed broke the silence that had settled in the pastoral glade, “Ted, this could tear us apart. I really treasure your friendship, and I never want anything to get in the way of that.”

“Oh God,” said Ted, “That’s exactly what I was thinking. No stupid race should ever come between us. I mean, we're best friends!”

Ed spoke slowly and sadly, “So what do we do?”

Again silence set into the meadow. At last Ted let out a blow, and said “I got it! You said it yourself; we’re the two fastest racehorses, right? So no matter what, we’re going to take first and second place. Why don’t we just agree to let you win the first race, I’ll win the second race, and we’ll figure out the third when we get to it!”

“Well,” said Ed, “I’ve never given anything less than a hundred percent out there on the track, but if this is what it takes to keep my best friend, I’ll do it!”

Soon it was the big day of the first race. Ted and Ed were lined up at the gate, and gave each other little winks. The gates flew open and out charged the horses. Ed was right, they were the two fastest horses, and they easily sprinted out ahead of the other horses. In the lead, Ed raced hard, but he knew his best friend wouldn’t challenge him, so he fell into his stride and charged ahead for the finish. As he came to the home stretch, he turned to give Ted a wink, but something was wrong. Ted’s eyes had glossed over and gone fiery red. The gentle horse Ed knew was gone. Ted charged forward, speeding up behind Ed and then passing him right before the finish. Ted had won the race.

Back at the stable, Ted shyly approached his best friend. “Ed?”

“So that’s your plan? Convince me I won’t have to fight for it then beat me before I can do anything about it? Some friend you are.”

“No Ed,” Ted pleaded, “It’s not like that at all. I feel awful. You’re my best friend, and I would never lie to you or mislead you. I can’t explain it. When I got close to the finish, it was like… I don’t know. I couldn’t control myself. It was like I was possessed. I really feel horrible.” Tears were streaming down Ted’s long face. “Won’t you please accept my apology? Please? You can win both of the next races, I promise. I don’t want to lose my best friend.” Ed couldn’t stand to see his best friend crying, and he felt tears on his own face.

“Okay, Ted. I still feel betrayed, but we can work through this.”

The next day they were back at the starting gates. Ed looked over at Ted, but Ted was so guilt-ridden he couldn’t look his friend in the eye. The gates flew open.None of the other horses compared to Ed and Ted, and soon enough they led the rest by a dozen lengths. As they raced, Ted yelled over the roar of the crowds, “All right, Ed, this one is all yours. I really am sorry about that last race.”

Ed spoke back to his friend, “I know, Ted. You got caught up in the moment or something. We’re racehorses after all.” They were on the home stretch, and Ed raced for the finish with ease.

“No racehorse likes to lose, right Ted? Ted? Ted!”

Ted’s eyes once again had gone fiery red, and his nostrils flared as he charged past Ed and crossed the finish line in first place. Later, Ted slowly walked to Ed’s stall in the stable, his head hanging low. When he looked up he saw that Ed wasn’t there. Feeling horrible, Ted walked around the other stalls, dragging his hooves and asking the other horses if they’d seen Ed. He finally found Ed behind the stable, alone and crying.Ted called out softly, “Ed. I feel so bad for what…”

“Shut up!” said Ed. “What kind of a friend are you?”

“Look, Ed, I know there’s no excuse for what I did. And I can’t stand that I’ve betrayed your trust twice now.” They were both sobbing uncontrollably now. Ted went on, “What kind of monster am I that I could do that to my best friend? I’ve never felt so bad in my entire life. I want to go back in time and do it all over, and do it right. There’s no excuse. I can’t even trust myself now, so there’s no way I could expect you to trust me.”

“You're damn right I can’t trust you,” said Ed. “I thought we were best friends!”
Ted sniffled and blinked away some tears. “We were. I mean, we ARE. I am so, so sorry for everything. At tomorrow’s race, I’m going to come in last place. I’m going to be so far back that I won’t even have a chance of losing control.”

“You’d do that for me?” sobbed Ed. “You'd come in last place?”

“Of course I would, Ed, You’re my best friend and I intend to keep it that way.”

“Oh Ted, I just don’t understand. I knew this would be tough, but I never thought it would be this tough.”

“And it’s all my fault, Ed. I understand if you don’t want to be my friend any more.”

Ed sniffled and shook his head. “I have to forgive you. You’re my best friend.”

The next day Ted and Ed were at the gate for the last race. Ted looked over at Ed and bowed solemnly. He was going to throw the race and put his entire career in jeopardy for his friend. When the gates flew open, Ed charged out ahead of the other horses, and Ted slowly followed behind them all. Ed looked back to see if he could trust his friend, and sure enough Ted was far behind the other horses. Though Ed couldn’t be sure, it looked as if Ted was crying.As Ed made his final sprint for the finish, he heard the crowd roar to life. Was this for him? Ed had always been a crowd favorite, but the love he felt in those cheers was… No! Ted was charging up from behind, spitting and wild. Ted’s eyes glowed like a furnace as he dashed past the other horses.

“Not this time,” said Ed. As Ted approached, Ed gave it everything he had and sped like a demon for the finish. But Ted was wild-eyed and unstoppable, and charged past him to win by a nose.

Walking back to the stable, Ted knew he had lost the best friend he could ever have. In the past few days, he had grown accustomed to feeling guilt and shame, but this was an entirely new low. He had to apologize, even though he understood that Ed probably wouldn’t ever forgive him. Ed’s stall was empty and he wasn’t behind the stables either. Ted found the stable boy and asked him if he’d seen Ed.

“I saw him, all right,” said the stable boy. “Just a few minutes ago I saw him heading up the path to the cliffs.”

The cliffs! A new wave of guilt hit Ted as he dashed for the path. Never in all his years of racing did he run as fast as he did up that path. Nothing from the last three races even compared to the fury with which he charged to his friend. As he reached the top of the cliffs, he found Ed with one hoof over the edge, about to take the final step.

“Noooo!” screamed Ted. “This is all my fault. You can’t do this because I’m such a horrible friend! It should be me jumping off the cliff!”

“Great. Just great! If it isn’t the worst friend a horse could ever have.”

“I don’t know much,” said Ted, “but I do know that I can’t live with myself for what I’ve done to you, my best friend.”Ed was crying hysterically.

“Its bad enough getting beat in the races where I thought you’d let me win, but I also got beat when I was trying my hardest. And all along you just kept lying to me! My mind is made up. I’m going to jump and end it all.”

“Then I’m jumping too,” said Ted. “I won’t let my best friend die alone.”

“Yeah right!” said Ed.Ted was crying uncontrollably now too.

“I’m serious. If you’re going to go, I’m going with you. Whether you like it or not, you’re my best friend, and I’ll do whatever it takes to be there for you always.”

“Well you’re not stopping me,” said Ed.

“Then we’ll go together.”

Ted walked up beside Ed and the two horses looked over the edge. Both were crying as they lifted their hooves up and prepared to take that first, and last, step off the cliff.“

Wait! Don’t do it!” cried the stable dog, running up the path toward them. “You can’t do this! You’re best friends!” Ted and Ed paused as the dog ran up to the edge. “Don’t you see? There’s nothing worse then losing friendship, and if you two jump, you’ll never have a chance to be friends again! Don’t you remember the long hours you’d spend with each other in the meadows? All the good times you’ve had? All the happiness you two once shared? Doesn’t that count for anything?”

Ed looked up from the dog, turned to his friend, and said...

“Hey look, a talking dog.”

Lightning Produces Gamma Rays

Weird huh? I read this as an aside in a book and chased it down this morning. My first thought was that this was either a) some kind of synchotron radiation produced by a variation of the Tademaru Effect or b) pair production (!)!

Their report suggested that runaway breakdown at a much lower altitude, created within "strong fields in or just above the thundercloud," could have triggered the TGFs instead. "It still almost certainly has to be runaway breakdown that's creating these," Cummer said. "The only real possibility is that it's much closer to the cloud top, and linked to something else happening inside the cloud." The detailed Duke-led analysis also disclosed that, on average, TGFs occurred 1.24 milliseconds before their associated lightning strokes. "That was something we absolutely were not expecting," Cummer said. "But the coincidence between the lightning and the TGFs we found is too good to be random. So, even if the TGFs precede the lightning, they are in some way connected." Their paper suggests one possibility for such a negative cause-and-effect relationship. Perhaps "TGFs are produced by a process associated with the development of the observed lightning stroke, but that actually occurs about 1 millisecond before the stroke itself," the authors wrote.

I'm wondering if there is a spectrum of low-frequency microwaves near (but not necessarily colocated with )the source before the gamma burst. The Tademaru Effect could explain it, i.e. the microwaves could produce a few relativistic electrons which then crash and dump their energy in the form of gamma. There would be a characteristic gamma spectrum if this were true, so it's testable.

Fermi Condensate

For me, Statistical Mechanics was the hardest class in physics in grad school. It's difficult, complicated and the math is nearly impenetrable. To date, there are really only 2 major things I remember out of StatMech, 1) how the equations differ from bosons and fermions, and b) the mathematics of Bose Condensates. I remember this as "Bosons are gregarious", i.e. you can get an arbitrary number of bosons into the same state, as opposed to fermions (of which all the matter you're familiar with is composed) which is subject to the Pauli Exclusion principle.

What does this mean? It means you can walk through a beam of light, but you cannot walk through a wall.

Via Dr. Nick, and interesting bit of news:
Ice Created In Nanoseconds By Sandia’s Z MachineScience Daily — Sandia’s huge Z machine, which generates temperatures hotter than the sun, has turned water to ice in nanoseconds. However, don’t expect anything commercial just yet: the ice is hotter than the boiling point of water. “The three phases of water as we know them — cold ice, room temperature liquid, and hot vapor — are actually only a small part of water’s repertory of states,” says Sandia researcher Daniel Dolan. “Compressing water customarily heats it. But under extreme compression, it is easier for dense water to enter its solid phase [ice] than maintain the more energetic liquid phase [water].”

The physical properties of fermi condensates are very complicated and water especially so. Hot ice, rubber that shrinks when you heat it ... those crazy fermions!

While I don't beleive in god, if I did, I'd be convinced that the water molecule was her signature on the universe.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Looks like mind reading machines will be a reality sooner rather than later.
Where will the soul hide once we have the brain mapped?

Until this experiment, which was reported last month in Current Biology, nobody had ever tried to take a picture of free will. One reason is that fMRI is too crude to distinguish one abstract choice from another. It can only show which parts of the brain are demanding blood oxygen. That's too coarse to distinguish the configuration of cells that signifies addition from the configuration that signifies subtraction. So, Haynes used software to help the computer recognize complex patterns in the data. To dissect human thought, the computer had to emulate it.

I once had a telling argument with TJIC about neurobiology and the soul. He’s a firm believer in the latter, so I kept pushing his understanding of the boundary between which decisions were based on neurology and which were "free will" and therefore subject to "sin". It’s completely demonstrable that you can injure a brain and affect behavior, even predictably. If the brain, an analog computer subject to bugginess, can adversely affect consciousness, where does the soul and free will begin and end?

It was an interesting argument and he created a model which was neither biblical nor scientific but he used to highlight the difference. He analogized the brain as a radio and the soul a broadcast station in heaven which sent signals to the brain about decisions. In this model, neurological damage detuned the radio so the reception was imperfect and the brain did things the "soul" didn't intend. It's an elaborate, fascinating model without a shred of doctrinal or scientific evidence to support it, but I suspect if mind-reading machines come into widespread use you'll see some version of this to explain the soul, continuing to tuck the mystery away in the gaps. I did have an opportunity to ask a (non-catholic)priest about this particular model, he pointed out that it causes all sorts of problems around redemption and sin and isn’t a “remotely defensible position”. His position was along the lines that “God knows what’s actually going on” and makes the right decisions about the disposition of souls.

Personally, I think Occum’s Razor still holds.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Something Familiar About That Ship

Saw the first panel of this and thought... could it be....??? !!!!

The greatest video game ever made! Really!

I am *dancing* with the *sauce*!