Monday, October 26, 2009

a defence of organic milk and eggs

So I buy organic milk and eggs. I'm generally skeptical of organic stuff, I don't think the label means a whole lot. However, for some reason organic milk and eggs don't go bad for like a month and a half. It's crazy. Now some people may be like: "So what, I always use the milk and eggs before they're bad". Well, in that case, good for you, buy the cheapest milk you can find, however I use very little milk. It's a total waste for me to buy conventional milk, it always goes bad before I've had half of it. Eggs I can sometimes get away with, but sometimes I don't feel like eating a bunch of eggs, so organics give me a nice little time buffer.

I'm convinced I save money by buying organic milk and eggs. But I haven't run the budget. I'm too damn lazy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

thoughts on the president's health care plan

It falls almost exactly in the point where I'm not sure if I like it or not. It has a public option, but a very weak one. It is almost certainly better than what we have now, but I'm not sure if it will help or hinder future legislation to strengthen the public option and improve health care more. I think that the one thing that would dramatically improve the plan is just to make the public option available to everyone, why should it be arbitrarily restricted to protect insurance company profits? Perhaps tactically the best thing to do is to pass this bill, create a weak public option and expand it's coverage over time, as conservatives see it's not evil. I'll have to learn more about the proposal to decide whether I think it's worth it, see what all of the implications are, and if there is a chance of passing a better plan.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Atheism and Science Wars: It's good to be Strident

Recently there has been a lot of discussion atheist scientists and their role in public outreach of science, largely catalyzed by a new book by Mooney and Kirshenbaum. Now besides the pointless trashing of PZ Myers the thesis of the book seems to be (and I have not read it) that scientists do a piss-poor job out public outreach and need to be more respectful of religion. Now, since I haven't read the book, I'm not going to talk about it specifically, but the idea that scientists who don't make nice to religion will lead to the mainstream religious throwing away science. I think this is a dumb idea on a number of levels:

  • The mainstream of religion largely does throw away inconvenient facts from science.

  • Compromising science to appease religion is a seriously bad idea (I know that few specifically argue for this, though some do, but many proposals do this in practice)

  • Even religions that are not explicitly anti-science usually only give lip service to science (for example the catholic church's silly standards for miracles)

All of these ideas have been played out before, but my own contribution is this thought: in the modern media cycle interesting debates and ideas are much more powerful than bland ones. People live for arguments, it's the entire reason for existence of reality tv. This is not always a good thing (the entire history of the Republican party after Nixon is based on the idea of interesting but bad ideas), but it is a fact. An exciting debate between science and religion is going to get a lot more attention, and probably people interested in science, than mealy-mouthed accommodation. Now, this will certainly lead to a lot of people coming down against science, but I view it as similar to the story of the civil rights movement (and gay rights movement): there was a lot of abstract argument about equality and justice, but there was very little progress in the public realm until there were those who were unafraid of being called strident or militant (and came out of the closet).

Now, science outreach is a very different thing from the (gay) civil rights, so I could be totally wrong about this, there probably is no research on it. But I do tend to think that it's impossible to make much progress on an issue without a strong viewpoint. People may be ignorant, but they are smart enough to tell when you are pandering to them, and they don't like it.

Monday, June 29, 2009


So I moved into a new apartment over the weekend. Compared to previous times I've moved, the lack of internet at home isn't too bad at all due to several factors:
  1. Internet at work
  2. Googlephone with internet
  3. Maybe I'm just less addicted (not likely)

Anyways, I'm enjoying my new bachelor pad. As is traditional the only things in the fridge at the moment are beer, pizza, and condiments.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Finally I can say "I liked them before they were cool"

Some people are saying that the chiptune band Anamanaguchi is going to get big and escape the chiptune scene ghetto. This would, I think, be pretty great. Not only do I like chiptunes in general, but Anamanaguchi is clearly one of the best chip groups out there. As mentioned int he first linked article, chiptunes really make people strip the song down to it's bare essentials, and the most popular soundchips (those that were in the NES and Gameboy) also need very short songs, so the best chiptunes end up being 2 minute explosions of pure melody. As also mentioned, chiptunes are one of the easiest genres of music to get involved with: you can use a free program like FamiTracker to write songs. You don't need expensive instruments, or sample libraries (though those help).

Read about and download their music, and that of other chiptune artists, at 8bitpeoples. Be sure to checkout nullsleep and Random if you head over there too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And I thought it seemed so immature

I am highly amused. This blog has been declared "Adult" by my work's filter. Reminds me I need to post here more often. Now that I have googlephone perhaps I'll look into posting via phone...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Newsflash: economists have seriously fucked up

This is interesting, especially in light of reading The Shock Doctrine. One of the things that keeps coming up in The Shock Doctrine is how free market fundamentalist economists (called the Chicago School after where Milton Friedman taught) always claim that their economic prescriptions are purely scientific in an effort to justify putting in place their programs over objections and without political controls. There are several problems with this (I, for one, always thought that science did not tell us what to do, only what is, and we can use this knowledge to help us get the results we want. In other words science never tells you to cut taxes, it can only say what will happen if you cut taxes.) but it seems that the biggest problem is that it was bad science. Results from models mostly untouched by empirical results are not science, but philosophy. Now economic systems are hard to test in a controlled manner, so a certain amount of reliance on theory and models is perhaps understandable, but all models need to be tested, and it seems that many economists have just assumed their models work for the last ~30 years and proceeded to calibrate their models.

So read that paper, they have many problems with modern academic economics, but the one that I, as someone with a background in physics, found most telling was the lack of empirical support for their assertions.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Music reviews: Blood Ceremony

Hey, I'm actually busy with job interviews this week so... I thought I'd review an interesting album I found online. Now I usually don't bother with reviewing well know stuff because I rarely have anything to add to something everyone has heard, but I'd never heard of this band before s I figured I might have something to say.

So the band is Blood Ceremony and this is their first, self-titled album. They are extremely old-school. The inevitable references are Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull, the Tull reference is mainly because they've got a flute player, and the guitar sound like it was ripped out of a Sabbath record. At first I thought that the singer sounded like Neal Peart (of Rush) before I realized it was a woman, she doesn't sound like Neal for most of this album, just the first song. Everything about this album is retro, including the cover art and the synthesizers, which I think works well for this band. Retro revivals are happening all over the place, but this is a new take on an old sound.

So how's the music? It's basic sound is moody early 70's metal, but it keeps things pretty varied throughout. It may be metal, but it doesn't have the overwhelming distortion that dominates that genre nowadays. As a matter of fact the sound is pretty clean, sometimes even folksy. The lyrics are pretty ridiculous, but I don't listen for the lyrics. Take a look at these lyrics off of the song "Return to Forever":

The master magician tunes a casket-shaped lung
In his ritual chamber they pray to the dawn

Sipping cosmic nectar
hearing Magus lecture

Now Astaroth's ship sets sail across the sky
Through Saturn's yawning hail, and into the eye
Black magic rites profane
Wizards are oft' to blame

Unless you're at a D&D session or a Pagan ritual these are just a little silly. There is nothing here that hasn't been done before musically, but it's of consistently high quality. The one bad point is that there's really only one tempo for the entire album, but there are a number of different sounds and textures, the main one being the Sabbathean hard rock, but also relatively light-hearted folkish songs and and at one point sounding like a Gypsy dance song (the intro to Hop Toad). I'm guessing that this will be a big hit with the stoner crowd, it's good even without chemical enhancement.

So a word about the rating system I use: I like the one from Sound Opinions. The ratings are buy it (if you like this genre of music, you will definitely enjoy it), burn it (try before you buy), and trash it (don't even bother). I'm going to give this a buy it: if you like hard rock/metal, especially from the 1970's, you will enjoy this. The only people who may be disappointed are hardcore doom metallers, since this is classified as doom metal, but sounds nothing like the usual doom metal album (which is a lot slower, louder, and more distorted). I mean, top 40 types won't like it, but they're not going to expect to like it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saddlebacking defined

Saddlebacking: sad•dle•back•ing \ˈsa-dəl-ˈba-kiŋ\ vb [fr. Saddleback Church] (2009): the phenomenon of Christian teens engaging in unprotected anal sex in order to preserve their virginities

After attending the Purity Ball, Heather and Bill saddlebacked all night because she’s saving herself for marriage.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sex, Women, and Perversity

So it's been a while since I posted, but I saw this article and had to post on it. Short summary for those who can't get through the NYT paywall: sex researchers are finally doing research on women, when for a long time it was all about men. There are some interesting results and some hypotheses to try to explain them.

Empirical findings:
  1. Men's physical response to sexual images (aka an erection) matches their psychological response pretty closely, whereas womens did not match very well
  2. Men tended to have a response very similar to their stated orientation (straight men were turned on by women, and gay men by men), but women were all over the map. I'll quote here:
    All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly — and markedly, though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man — as they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph [device to measure physical sexual response] and the keypad [to rate their subjective response] weren’t in much accord. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. Among the lesbian volunteers, the two readings converged when women appeared on the screen. But when the films featured only men, the lesbians reported less engagement than the plethysmograph recorded. Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos.

Interesting, no? Well there are a few ideas to explain these findings:
  1. Women become wet in any sexual situation to avoid suffering physical damage from sex to their vaginas.
  2. Women are turned on by someone being attracted to them, not another person in of themselves

Now the first hypothesis makes some sense, evolution would tend to work that way (though it does not explain the high response to women with women), but it does not explain why their physical and mental responses to sexual imagery are so different. hypothesis 2 seems to me like someone talking out their ass. Everyone is turned on by someone being attracted to them, that isn't something that can explain the difference between men and women's sexuality.

There are several ways to explain the differences that I can think of. First of all, are the differences biological or cultural? The article touches on how hard those things are to separate. We really don't know the answers to this one yet, but it is probably some sort of combination of the two, it's just a question of how much of each. Now if it's primarily biological (aka men and women are fundamentally different sexually) then we basically know why: it evolved that way, we just don't know why it evolved that way, and I don't think anyone can seriously present a good idea why it evolved that way at this point while we are still trying to decide what exactly "natural" sexuality is. Now if it's primarily cultural (aka men and women are essentially the same) then we can go two ways: either men are repressing physical responses that don't fit their psychological makeup, or women getting wet for things that don't actually turn them on.

There is another interesting possibility that I favor; Women and men could have fundamentally different physical sexual responses, but women have been forced by culture to fit into the male sexuality boxes. I certainly think that the language used to describe sexuality is very male centric. Men are usually either basically straight or basically gay (though the boundaries are to some extend fluid), whereas women have basically fluid sexuality (though they do have to some extent a sexual orientation). As a science nerd the best way to illustrate this is with a graph.

Ok, so I'm not good at making fake graphs. But the point is: in my experience women who have sort of thrown out societies expectations of them match their states desires very well with the physical one in the study. Which, in a totally unscientific manner, says to me that women are naturally* something along the lines of pansexual and it's our society that has forced them into straight or gay.

* by natually I mean that if all there was was biology. I'm a great advocate of natural != good, and the other thing is that that this is all based on distributions of people with many outliers.