Archive for October, 2008

The Epic Quest for EXTERMICAKE!

Thanks to inspiration from Phil and this video:

I am pleased to inform you that while I write this I am taking a bite out of a moist and delicious EXTERMICAKE… and you almost certainly are not.

But what kind of a cruel blogger would I be if I didn’t show picture to make your mouth water as well?

EXTERMICAKE! front.

EXTERMICAKE! front.

EXTERMICAKE! side.

EXTERMICAKE! side.

But what’s this in the background?

Why… it’s a Charles Darwin doll!

OMFSM! This is PROOF that Daleks are all Darwinists and that Darwinists are therefore all involved in some kind of Nazi eugenicist plot to take over the universe!

It’s a tasty Nazi eugenicist plot, though.

Anyway, a few things I learned from this experience (besides the fact that EXTERMICAKES are Nazi Darwinists):

  1. The round chocolates I bought which I was going to cut to make hemispheres for the Dalek weren’t very easy to cut with a knife so I used chocolate chips instead.
  2. After I put on the chocolate chips I found the chocolate balls were easy to split with a toothpick.
  3. Icing sugar is the same as powdered sugar. Thank you Google.
  4. Butter icing needs quite a bit more sugar than butter in order to be worth it, but it does work well as “glue”.
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“Popular Science is An Oxymoron”

Update: Poe’s Law.

Back in middle school science classes, when we finished all our work, we were allowed to read through my teacher’s old issues of Popular Science magazine. During this time I once heard an otherwise rather thick, snobby, and not particularly pleasant girl say the most truthful thing…

Popular Science is an oxymoron.

I then also realised that Scientific American is also an oxymoron.

I now have evidence for this…

Seen at the Fail Blog.

Kids, study hard in science. If for nothing else so that you don’t fail like this and make the rest of your fellow humans feel embarassed that you’re a member of our species.

I know, I know. This is only one example of stupidity. I wouldn’t doubt that the vast majority of people understand daylight savings time.

But at the same time I’m open to being surprised… although I wouldn’t be surprised at all if 30%, 50%, even 75% of Americans don’t understand daylight savings time and think this way.

I would say that somebody should do some research, but the last time somebody suggested that the media blared that he was anti-Harry Potter.

Faeries, Elves, and Magic Spells

Here’s a chat log between me and one of my friends last night:

[21:29] Amar: richard dawkins is attacking harry potter
[21:30] Elles: That was random.
[21:30] Amar: but true
[21:31] Amar: hes going crazy
[21:32] Elles: …?
[21:33] Amar: hes a loon
[21:34] Elles: I see.
[21:34] Amar: 🙂

Since I was busy sorting out some technical difficulties with Skype I decided there were more important things to worry about than what Richard Dawkins thought of Harry Potter. I figured that my friend was probably just saying random stuff to get my attention.

It turns out, however, that he was actually getting this from several news sources.

Let us first note three things about our three sources:

  1. The Telegraph spelled “wizardry” wrong and called Dawkins “Prof Hawkins”. A missing R I can understand. But I checked my keyboard, and you can check yours. The D is nowhere near the H. News sources have spelling errors all the time, but to not notice that you just called him “Prof Hawkins”, well, let’s just say it looks like they weren’t all too careful with the article.
  2. NewKerala makes two errors in the first two paragraphs. First of all, Dawkins never said anything about doing any research into this. Why would he? He’s a fraking biologist, not a sociologist (Insert Star-Trek-Nerd “I’m a doctor not a…” joke here).
  3. It’s the Daily Mail. ‘Nuff said.

Now on to the actual quote… except all these news sources have taken these quotes out of order and put them all over the place so I don’t know which order they’re suppose to go in.

Looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.

I haven’t read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children’s author that one might mention and I love his books. I don’t know what to think about magic and fairy tales.

Notice how he never explicitly says “Harry Potter is bad!” He talks about fantasy in general and uses Potter as an example.

Inconveniently, I can’t seem to find anything that has the full, in-context quotes so we really can’t tell what Dawkins really meant, although it seems that this is all just a much-ado-about-nothing.

However…

It has brought up an interesting question, so let us disregard what Dawkins thinks or doesn’t think.

Harry Potter is interesting and if you don’t agree you can…

Ahem.

I love Harry Potter.

I have a book display from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in my room, I have all seven books, I have all the movies (and I wouldn’t be too doubtful that I had at least the first part of Sorceror’s Stone memorised), I used to have a small cult-following on a Harry Potter forum I used to go to because I knew so much about it, I have a Gryffindor robe, I have a Ravenclaw scarf that I knitted myself, and I have an autographed photo of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.

No, not nearly the level of obsession as some Potter fans, and I haven’t re-read the series in a while (I need to get on that), but yes. I know what it’s like to be a Potter-nerd, more so when I was younger than I am now because school takes time away exponentially as you grow older.

It is quite obvious that the vast majority of children will at least grow up to understand that it is all fiction.

But there is something about that enchanted world of Hogwarts that did make me want to open the mail box one day, telling me that I was a witch and that I could go off to Hogwarts, a place that seemed better than where I was.

I wanted to go to the world of Harry Potter. I wanted to believe. Badly.

I could understand it whenever my HP friends in real life or on the Internet started getting into Wicca. I always thought it was a load of rubbish, but I dabbled with a few spells… which never worked.

I will actually agree with the fundies… HP led a lot of kids to get into Wicca. But just because you’re a Harry Potter fan does not necessarily mean that you will become a Wiccan, and I seriously doubt that the majority of Harry Potter fans ever really get into that Wicca stuff.

If a kid went and read Harry Potter and wasn’t able to understand that it was fiction, the fault does not lie in the parent for letting their child read Harry Potter, but for not teaching their child how to distinguish fiction from reality. And, something that comes up with people of faith, for not teaching them the radical idea that just because you want something to be true makes it true.

Though I like reality a lot there is nothing wrong with a little bit of escapism as long as you come back when it comes time to come back.

One more thing, if Dawkins really does have something against Harry Potter, I’m not going to rearrange my bookshelf so that his books are further away from my Potter books, but I will confront him about it next time I see him. If I want to annoy him enough I’ll also have a backwards baseball cap on and the biggest wad of chewing gum I can find in my mouth.

Conspiracy Theorists Are Idiots.

Hello again, assorted readers! I return.

Every single conspiracy theorist is an idiot. Here’s why:

Bullets make people dead.

Bullets make people dead.

That is an M4 Carbine. As it says in big letters at the top of the image, but I needed a way to start the sentence. I think that’s enough filler so on to the content.

If a government, especially the US government, wants to cover something up, nobody will find out about it. If the US government had orchestrated 9/11 as a part of the largest conspiracy ever devised, causing a few youtube members to “disappear” is trivial. The M4 probably has an attachment for it right beside the Automated Field Coffee Distributor.

Considering we’re talking about the US Government, if they really wanted to, they could bomb every conspiracy theorist’s house, call it an accident, and go back to being the incompetent cronies of the bush administration.

If you still believe the world is out to get you and your name isn’t John Connor, I suggest you start running. If your name is John Connor, what are you doing reading this blog? Get back to killing Skynet!

Kids these days.

Natural Skepticism

I was strolling through a lounge one day…

When I saw this lying on a table:

I became suspicious at once. I’ve never quite understood how the word “natural” makes something automatically better than another thing.

Natural steaks, natural food, natural medicine.

Hell, my mum buys Arrowhead water instead of the generic brand because she thinks it has more “natural water”.

I once saw a bottle of sparkling mineral water that said that it was made with “natural CO2”. Apparently being natural carbon dioxide doesn’t change the chemical formula of carbon dioxide anyway if it’s still “natural CO2” so what’s so great about it?

Maybe if I changed my blog’s sub-title to “All-Natural” I’d get more traffic.

Now, obviously there are some artificial things that are bad for you (though a lot of them are fine when taken in moderation). There are also some natural things that are bad for you.

Arsenic occurs naturally.

Uranium occurs naturally.

Mercury occurs naturally.

And that’s just a few things I pulled off the Periodic Table.

But it turns out that Kevin Trudeau is even more of a flat-out liar than my original suspicions let on when I found this YouTube video by Googling his name:

As wonderful a job as John Stossel (we need more journalists who have half as much skepticism as him) did exposing Trudeau, I still have to bang my head into a wall after reading this YouTube comment:

Trudeau is NOT a crook. I have tried several things in his book and they worked for me. Like Magnesium tablets for stress relief. They work better for me than ANY antidepressant or antianxiety that doctors have given me. FDA is out to KILL!

Thank you for your anecdotal scientific assertion that magnesium tablets work for stress relief (I personally have found that a hot bath and some chocolate works well enough, and yours can’t possibly be a placebo effect!) and that the FDA wants to kill us all.

Advice for the FDA: it would go a lot quicker if you let us use China’s tainted milk products.

Faking Death: Performance Art or Heartless Hoax?

Feel free to not believe me. I’ve done little to earn your trust, and I can’t blame you for your doubt.

Zombie Rystefn

On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I had just gotten out of bed and, for whatever reason that I can’t recall now, started talking to Elyse of The Skepchick Empire on Skype. Anyway, in the middle of our conversation about how inferior Sam Ogden makes me feel with his hotness and his superb writing, Elyse said “oh, Rystefn passed away”.

Rystefn was one of the readers and commenters on Skepchick, Teen Skepchick, and this blog. Oh, how much laughter he used to bring to me when I read through the comments of our posts. What wit, what eloquence, what genius.

I never talked to him on IM, much less met him in person, but he seemed far from a stranger. He might as well have been a part of Skepchick, so constant a name to appear in the blog comments.

Elyse linked me to Rystefn’s blog, The Last Road, and I poked through the posts, reading the story of his last days.

Damn it, I never told him that I loved his commentry, and damn it, I never followed the link in that ever-so constant name to his blog to find out that he was dying. What an arse I felt like!

Given that I hadn’t known that he’d been dying it all came as a shock to me.

Mum came in to my room, and looked upon my saddened facial expression. “One of my mostest favouritest commenters in the world just died,” I said.

I made a post, a clever interweaving of some of the comments I had scavenged for on my blog and on Teen Skepchick with my own words of mourning. But I didn’t post it (a post that wasn’t posted, aha!). I waited for more word from his girlfriend, “Sabrina” who had been the bearer of bad news on the blog, because she seemed to have hinted at writing something else in rememberance of Rystefn. I waited, not wanting to take away her moment of rememberance from her.

As I waited, doubts began to grow. Doubt had already been there, knowing that people on the Internet do create hoaxes, having heard many stories. But, not wanting to be an arse I decided to continue on the assumption that Rystefn was indeed dead, even without evidence.

I was faced with a nasty thought, I would rather Rystefn be dead than for him to be hoaxing us.

I waited, with each passing day thinking that if it were a hoax he would have revealed it. And if it weren’t a hoax Sabrina would surely have posted.

It was a hoax.

By now I had begun feeling pretty apathetic about the whole thing, and more and more doubtful, but I still couldn’t help but feel a strong, powerful disgust as I watched Rystefn’s video. I chose to ignore the urge to vomit, and decided to simply forget Rystefn ever graced even the outer layers of the blogosphere.

What seemed to be most upsetting to people was that in calling it “performance art” they thought that Rystefn might be trying to justify it as being art. He says he doesn’t think it’s justified as art but…

I began thinking… As despicable an act as it was, could it really be called “art”? And if so, could it still be justified?

The most useful thing I was ever taught about art was that art is hard to define. I can make some generalisations about it though, a few of which I’ll summarize here.

  1. Art is often aesthetically pleasing.
  2. Art usually provokes emotion, makes people think, bothers them.
  3. Art tends to have lessons.
  4. Great art is often controversial.

Can writing be aesthetic? I’ve been told that some of my posts are “beautiful” and while I admittedly am not entirely sure I know what that means, I’d argue that there are beautiful pieces of writing and that that could be considered aesthetics. I found The Golden Compass to be strangely aesthetically pleasing although I don’t know what that means even though I’ve just said it was.

The Last Road provoked emotion. It examined the human condition in the face of death. And I suppose this post might be evidence that it provoked thought.

Rystefn seemed to be saying he had the intent of teaching a lesson had he followed through with the rest of the story of The Last Road, but we shall never know what it was, it seems.

And was this contoversial? Controversial in whether or not it’s art? Yes.

But, the major difference between the catharsis of a great play, or a moment at which a great work of literature has played your heart-strings is that you know it’s fiction. Fooling people, while it may give you a good laugh, makes you a bit of a jerk. People tend to have no respect for you.

Lonelygirl15 was an actress on YouTube, though her videos were of less substance.

But maybe that is part of the art. Artists try to make things seem realistic, but making somebody actually believe it’s real… Is that perhaps a new and radical form of art? Isn’t that just controversial, a part of being great art?

And perhaps Rystefn, or whatever his real name is, is simply mentally ill. A plausible enough idea.

Van Gogh once cut off his own ear.

I think that The Last Road could get away with being called art. I will say with weak conviction that I am willing to go along with saying that it was art. Whether it can be justified… While I find the means of provoking emotion in what I suppose Rystefn thought was an artistic manner were definitely deceptive and vile, he did provoke emotion. Whether or not you liked the art, well, that’s all subjective.

Maybe I was enchanted with The Last Road before my disillusionment, but I am certainly now disenchanted with its artist.

Yesterday as David Grinspoon was giving his lecture at Auraria, I couldn’t help but noticing a man in the audience with a pair of glasses, a cowboy hat, blonde hair, and a beard much like Rystefn’s. Having only seen a few pictures, that video, and never having met him in person, I couldn’t say for sure. Perhaps it was the cold fury spilling over into paranoia making me see Rystefn where he was not there.

One question I think we will never have answered and that I am, admittedly, still curious about is how The Last Road would have ended, and what would have happened in between had Rystefn continued with his “art”. But, most curious to me… why would he give up all his friends for this? He certainly must have known that he would be stripped of all his respect and dignity, left with only the pity from a few of our hearts (including my own).

Throughout this post I’ve merely tried to make people look beyond our anger or apathy or whatever (and hell, maybe the story is not even about him dying, maybe it’s about how we react when we know it’s faked) at Rystefn’s distasteful actions and see if, perhaps, there was some taste to it after all. I don’t know the answer to this question, and now more than ever, I’d like to hear from you, the readers, especially if you’ve never commented before.

As much as I think Rystefn deserves a swift, forceful kick in the balls, can we still have appreciation for his “art”? Again, I’m calling it “art” with weak conviction.

However, perhaps the most telling thing he ever said was on his YouTube channel, and I think I shall end with it…

I am not a nice person. Do not mistake me for one.

As If It Needs Saying…

I don’t like MSN. Awful news source, even when they’re not advertising for horoscopes in their “news” articles.

First, I must give them kudos for having a sensible article on a new discovery of dinosaur tracks. Palaeontology for the win!

But, then I simply must pick a bone with an article titled “U.S. Pilot Ordered To Shoot Down UFO” which was also on the front page.

LONDON – An American fighter pilot flying from an English air base at the height of the Cold War was ordered to open fire on a massive UFO that lit up his radar, according to an account published by Britain’s National Archives on Monday.

The fighter pilot said he was ordered to fire a full salvo of rockets at the UFO moving erratically over the North Sea — but that at the last minute the object picked up enormous speed and disappeared. The account, first published in Britain’s Daily Star newspaper more than 17 years ago and to this day unverified by military authorities, was one of many carried in the 1,500 pages the archives made available online.

Right… I’m not even going to try to give a plausible alternative explanation for what the UFO could have been since I’m not an expert in that sort of thing and there really is no physical evidence (not even eye-witness evidence) to examine. But… even if it were verified that a pilot was asked to shoot down an unidentified object during the Cold War, I really would not be surprised. Not in the least.

See, during the Cold War people were afraid of nukes and shit. You see something flying through the air on radar and you don’t know what it is? You’re probably going to shoot it down.

But I’m going to admit that that’s not what I’m most annoyed with the article about. They put it in the Technology/Science category for one, and it’s in the Space section.

I don’t think this needs to be said… It’s an unidentified flying object meaning we have no idea what it is nor where it came from. I know that the cultural misconception is that “OMG! UFO=SPACE” but it really doesn’t.

UFO=UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT

There really is nothing in this article to suggest that it has anything whatsoever to do with space. It could be from space, but there’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that it is from space simply because you have no clue what it is.

This is not news. This is silly.

Silly?

THIS IS SPARTA!!!

And now that I’m done with my neat little rant.

Oh, by the way. A reminder: This Thursday David Grinspoon, author of Lonely Planets and curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (when I grow up I want to take his job, he has a nice office), will be speaking in the North Classroom Building (the big lecture hall in it) at the Auraria campus from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm on “Alien Life: The Science and the Hype (Does Denver Need an Extra-Terrestrial Affairs Commission?)”

Assuming I don’t chicken out five minutes before, I will be doing the introduction for him so if you missed my last public-speaking thingamabob, you can see this although it will be shorter and not all too creative (not that my last speech was in any way creative).