Why so green and lonely? Everything's going to be alright, just you wait and see.

Monday, April 16, 2007

While at Loblaw's ...

This postsecret is so true.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Davenport Gaffe

I went to the Town Hall meeting to hear what people on campus were saying about the UWO Gazette "teach her a lesson" rape joke controversy. There was lots of talk about disgust, outrage, accountability, some very moving stories, and even a couple of sweeping generalisations about men which I tried not to take personally.

I'm really glad I stayed for the whole thing because right at the end Davenport gets up to speak and, at about the 30 second mark, expressed his sincere concern for "the weaker members of society." If I had been drinking milk, it would've sprayed out of my nose at that moment. I started laughing to myself, and as Davenport paused awkwardly (realising what he'd just said, I'm sure) you could hear a few quiet "how can he say that?" and "what did he just say?" comments before a bunch of people started booing him. He then tried to recover with "uh, or rather, vulnerable?" before finally settling on something more long-winded and politically correct, which I forget now. Did I mention A-channel was there to get all this on tape? LOL.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Potted Plants ♥ Tenure

This Freakonomics blog post reminds me of a conversation I had with someone last week. Here's Stephen Levitt, a guy with tenure, ranting on the subject:
The idea that tenure protects scholars who are doing politically unpopular work strikes me as ludicrous.
The best case scenario would be if all schools could coordinate on dumping tenure simultaneously. [...] Absent all schools moving together to get rid of tenure, what if one school chose to unilaterally revoke tenure. It seems to me that it might work out just fine for that school. It would have to pay the faculty a little extra to stay in a department without an insurance policy in the form of tenure. Importantly, though, the value of tenure is inversely related to how good you are. If you are way over the bar, you face almost no risk if tenure is abolished. So the really good people would require very small salary increases to compensate for no tenure
BTW in 2004 he gave a TED talk (22min) that's pretty interesting, and funny in a way.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wikipedia & 72 Virgins

Found this NYT story, Courts Turn to Wikipedia, on hardocp.com:
More than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia, beginning in 2004, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, one step below the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court thus far has never cited Wikipedia.)
Of Steve Martin's 72 virgins these are my favourite:
Virgin No. 8: Can we cuddle first?

Virgin No. 17: “Do it”? Meaning what?

Virgin No. 18: I’m saving myself for Jesus. (now THAT would be funny!)

Virgin No. 29: Well, I’m a virgin, but my hand isn’t.

Virgin No. 35: By the way, here in Heaven “virgin” has a slightly different meaning. It means “chatty.”

Virgin No. 45: When you’re done, you should really check out how cool this ceiling is.

Virgin No. 70: My name is Mother Teresa.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Animals in the Womb

Much cuter than I would have imagined. See the article for a few more.
(6 months out of 24)
(12 months out of 24)


The Wikipedia article has lots of amazing examples:

Inflation 1923-24: A German woman feeding a stove with currency notes, which burn longer than the amount of firewood they can buy.

The Lesser of Two [Catholic] Evils

According to CNN:
LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Britain's leading cardinal said on Tuesday the Catholic church may be forced to close down its adoption agencies if the government insists they consider placing children with gay couples.
I doubt that any number of studies showing that gay parents don't make kids gay would convince these people that it's better for the kids than foster homes. I guess their good intentions count for something, but this is backwards and paranoid.
[Cardinal Douchebag] said it would be "an unnecessary tragedy if legislation forced the closure of these adoption services."
Is he referring to papal legislation? Ah, then I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Explanatory Power of Belief

Came across a neat paper called "Explanations Versus Applications: The Explanatory Power of Valuable Beliefs" while reorganising my hard drive.
Eighty interested Harvard undergraduates received a questionnaire informing them that this study was investigating people’s religious beliefs. Those in the applications condition were then asked to list either 3 or 10 observations that God can explain, whereas those in the explanations condition were asked to list either 3 or 10 observations that can explain God’s behavior.

When finished, participants answered four questions about their religious beliefs:
  • ‘‘What is the general importance of God in your life?’’
  • ‘‘How important is God to you on a daily basis?’’
  • ‘‘How confident are you that God exists?’’ and
  • ‘‘To what extent do you feel you have a personal relationship with God?’’
One result of their study is described in the graph below. Basically, by reflecting on why you hold a particular belief, you undermine your own perceived value of that belief. They note that people who were asked to list 10 explanations for God could usually only think of 4-5 items and this actually reinforced their belief slightly.
Finally, this research suggests that the ultimately valuable belief (a) explains everything and (b) is explained by nothing. Few beliefs can manage this feat, but those associated with science and religion are the most common contenders. We think it is no accident that Western theology has historically depicted God as the ‘‘unmoved First Mover.’’ Both science and religion seek primary causes that can explain higher-level observations, albeit through different methods. It is of little surprise, given our findings, that believers in science and believers in religion so often come into direct conflict. What these experiments suggest is that at least some of this conflict can be attributed to the psychological mechanisms that create valuable beliefs. What these valuable beliefs share, our research suggests, is not simply their perceived truth, but their power as explanations.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Penis is Evil

From the sci-fi 'classic' Zardos:
Zardoz: The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the gun shoots death, and purifies the earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth... and kill!
Yes, that's Sean Connery, and he wears it for the whole movie.
In 2004 the magazine Total Film described Connery's costume (consisting of a ponytail wig, leather knee boots, and a loincloth which bears a strong resemblance to a giant orange nappy or diaper) as the number 1 "dumbest decision in movie history".

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My Preciousssss...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Shermer @ TED2006

If you've got 17 minutes to kill, check out this talk by Michael Shermer about both pseudo-scientific beliefs and our powers of observation. The bits on religious and alien sightings was good:
Religious iconography, discovered by a Tennessee baker in 1996. He charged $5 a head to come and see the Nun Bun, until he got a cease-and-desist order from Mother Theresa's lawyer.
The Virgin Mary in Clearwater, Florida. We actually went to see this one. A lot of the faithful had come to be there, in wheelchairs and crutches and so on. We went down to investigate. All these candles, so many thousands of candles people had lit in tribute to this. So we walked around to the backside and turns out that, anywhere there was a sprinkler head and a palm tree, you get a Virgin Mary. Here's a Virgin Mary on the backside (which they started to wipe off).
The details of the "Quadro2000 Dowser Rod" are also hilarious. But the most interesting segment was where he challenges your powers of observation (I was way off on my count with the basketballs, and the Stairway to Heaven bit is hilarious).

Minsky on Sci-Fi

Marvin Minsky in the latest Discover:
[Science fiction] is about the only thing I read. General fiction is pretty much about the ways that people get into problems and screw their lives up. Science fiction is about everything else.
I think he's underestimating just how much fun it is to read about people screwing their lives up, though.

P.S. Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Stats Attack 4 (Books edition)

I found some interesting statistics on books in the U.S.:
  • 81% of the population feels they have a book inside them. (lol)
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • $1.7 billion is spent annually on textbooks. (for comparison: $78 billion is spent on alcohol, $37 billion on cigarettes and $6 billion on pet food.)

The Practical Value of Human Life

InnumeracyJust finished reading a great little book that I got for Christmas called Innumeracy. It's not a new book (1989) but it's full of scenarios and games where our intuitions often mislead us, and especially the innumerate. Some of the examples I've heard of before, but most were eye opening or at least fun to figure out for yourself before continuing to read; for all I know, this could be the book that popularised some of the puzzles I recognised.

Someday I'll go back and pull out some of the more entertaining examples but right now I keep thinking about the way the book ended, since it touches on something that troubles most of us from time to time, but we all come to terms with it for practical reasons (like wanting to have a life -- nothing wrong with that, right? right?):
[An example of the economic value of human life:] when the recent decisions by a number of states to raise the speed limit on certain highways to 65 m.p.h. and not to impose stiffer penalties on drunk driving were challenged by safety groups, they were defended with the patently false assertion that there would be no increase in accident rates, instead of a frank acknowledgment of economic and political factors witch outweighed the likely extra deaths. Dozens of other incidents, many involving the environment and toxic wastes (money vs. lives), could be cited.

They make a mockery of the usual sentiments about the pricelessness of every human life. Human lives are priceless in many ways, but in order to reach reasonable compromises, we must, in effect, place a finite economic value on them. Too often when we do this, however, we make a lot of pious noises to mask just how low that value really is. I'd prefer less false iuety and a considerably higher economic value placed on human lives. Ideally, this value should be infinite, but when it can't be, let's hold the saccharine sentiments. If we're not keenly aware of the choices we're making, we're not likely to work for better ones.
I think the more obvious example of such practical constraints is in medical systems (public or private) -- the cost vs. lives trade-offs in medicine are clear and will never go away.

Anyway, not that this is a new question, but, if someone makes a conscious decision in favour of personal freedom but that may lead to deaths (allowing everyone to drive, for example, when it's inherently more dangerous than public transit), then at what point are they 'morally' responsible for that decision? Meh, I guess it doesn't matter. Just seems arbitrary though, and so the whole idea that God knows the thresholds sounds silly and/or unfair. "A life is a life." Hmm, okay.

Stats Attack 3

Time again for some statistics, otherwise known as "damn lies." Here are some miscellaneous stats from numeric life:Children/education:
  • Learning from a teacher of opposite gender correlates with lower average grades.
  • 997 hours/year = the average time a U.S. child spends in class.
  • 1,023 hours/year = the average time a U.S. child spends watching TV.
  • 30% of U.S. students don't graduate from high school. (!?? my dad says this is also true in Ontario!)
  • 40% of U.S. college freshmen need remedial classes because they are unprepared.
  • 70% of public high school students admit to serious test cheating.
  • 60% of public high school students admit to plagiarizing at least one essay.
  • At 32 graduate business schools in the U.S. and Canada, 56% of business students were willing to own up to cheating.
Beliefs:Health/body image:The placebo effect is physical, not just psychological. In a recent study:
  • By telling Parkinson's patients that they were receiving medicine (a placebo), the problematic neurons quieted down by 40%.
  • Morphine is up to 50% more effective when patients know it's coming.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Videos corresponding to some parasite entries on The Loom that I liked from the last year. Amazing. Aren't we lucky that humans don't have to worry about parasites that are [quite] this terrifying?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

You are Spooginated

Children are so innocent. As seen on The Daily Show:

I can just imagine the marketing people cracking up when they saw the final ad.

Friday, December 08, 2006


No, BLF doesn't stand for Best Label Friend, it stands for Barbie Liberation Front. A great example of culture jamming, in 1989 they swapped the voice hardware of retail Teen Talk Barbie dolls ("Math is hard!" "I love shopping!" "Lets plan our dream wedding" and "Will we ever have enough clothes?") with the voice hardware of Talking Duke G.I. Joe ("Eat lead, Cobra!" and "Vengeance is mine!").

The Science of Jelloopdeloops

Funny that the Discovery Channel would choose to separate its gifts for boys and girls. From the link:
Here's the first five gifts for the boys:
  1. Discovery Whodunit? Forensics Lab
  2. Discovery Fingerprint Lab
  3. Discovery Speed Detector
  4. Radio Control Equalizer Stunt Car
  5. Discovery Remote Control Chromashift Roboreptile

Very sciency. Now for the girls:
  1. Discovery Ultimate Pottery Wheel
  2. Discovery Knit Kit
  3. Discovery Deluxe Nail Salon
  4. It's My Life Scrapbook Kit
  5. Discovery Friendship Bracelets
  6. Discovery Jelloopdeloops Jewelry Kit (just what the fuck is a "Jelloopdeloop"? Somehow I don't think Marie Curie played with Jelloopdeloops)
  7. Klutz ® Paper Fashions Kit
  8. It's All About Me Quiz Book (yes, one can never be too vacuous)
Well, event though it's weird for Discovery to separate its gifts in the first place, what the guy forgot to mention was that their web site sorts each category by best sellers first. So, really it's the parents that are responsible for "Discovery Deluxe Nail Salon" being a best seller <shudder>.

Update: Oh man, check out these science toys for girls. I especially like the Spa Science Kit: "Kids blend natural and organic materials to make an oatmeal mask, rose bath balm, and aromatherapy oils. A great way to cultivate a girl's interest in science." (wtf!?)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Well, no one can prove him wrong

Listen to Pat Robertson's deep answer a viewer's question:Oooh Pat Robertson, such a wuvvable wittow man. Who's a cwazy evangewicow pshychopaf? You are! Yes you are! Come'ere, <tickles Pat on the stomach> koochee woochee woo!

Ready? One... Two... Th--

Always wondered how you could make a difference in the world? To promote world peace? At long last, the answer: www.globalorgasm.org !! (the music is charming).
Everywhere in the world, but especially in countries with weapons of mass destruction.
Solstice Day - Friday December 22nd, at the time of your choosing, in the place of your choosing and with as much privacy as your choose
To effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy, a Synchronized Global Orgasm

Be sure to read the part under "The Science." LOL.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

1.0 Laptop / Child

The One Laptop Per Child project has built the first few prototypes of their final model. You can see pictures of the OLPC team playing with their creation at the OLPC Wiki. I envy these guys: they're working on an idea that's poised to change the world. At first I thought they got rid of the hand crank that their original design had (still visible in their gallery) but it turns out they just moved it to the AC adapter, which makes sense. No power outlet needed => awesome. Check out the hardware specs page... the processor uses 1 watt and system load is 3 watts with a capacity of 7 hours.