Saturday, January 31, 2009

JREF: Randi Speaks - Episode 4

I joined the James Randi Educational Foundation a couple weeks ago. I really think this is a great organization. They provide scholarships to individuals for science education and experimentation. Each week, James "The Amazing" Randi, speaks out about woo woo in the latest news. You can view all sorts of JREF videos on their YouTube channel. Here is episode 4.

Written by Jeffrey Wagg Saturday, 31 January 2009 00:31 In this episode, Randi introduces us to some credulous reporting, products that don't work, and updates us on an old personal challenge from TED.

Here is a link to the full article: Randi Speaks, Episode 4

Oprah Kills Kids and Christians Hate Her for Other Reasons

Many of you loyal readers know that I'm an Atheist. If you haven't noticed, I have a big "A" logo on the side of my blog. This post isn't about Atheism. It's about Oprah.

Oprah is killing people and she should stop. She does this by credulously allowing people like Jenny McCarthy on her show to spew anti-vaccination crap. Un-vaccinated children die. This pisses me off. A woman as rich and powerful as Oprah should know better, but she doesn't.

Ok. That isn't even the point of this point, but I'm getting closer.

My enmity toward the nasty O lead me to search for a facebook group that is against Oprah. I went to the groups page and entered "Oprah" in the search window. What came up was very interesting. Apparently, Oprah somehow offended Jesus followers. I don't know how and I don't care. That's still not my point.

Closer to my point: When I did that search it pulled up over 500 groups. Not all are against O, but most of them on the first 5-10 pages are groups against her. These are alledged christians that don't seem to be acting very christian. I was raised Catholic and have read most of the bible so I've heard the "turn the other cheek" and "love your neighbor" (but not his wife) parables and such.

I'll let you decide. Here are some quotes:

From the Group "1,000,000 Strong Against Oprah, and Eckhart Tolles new cult"
Oprah and Eckhart are both pathetic losers who have no sense of self or direction in life. Haven't you ever noticed that emotionally weak individuals are always searching for a meaning in life or their purpose on earth? Look at Hollywood celebs ... crazed lunatics who are completely out of touch with reality. There are so many pseudo-religious groups / cults on the horizon and there is one simple reason why they are being formed and why they are trendy. NO ONE wants to conform to God's way anymore (His Ten Commandments). They don't want to conform to morality or what is right. They want the easy- sleezy way of life. Therefore, a cheap, easy way to cop-out is to form a bullshit religion and brainwash all its victims. Be strong and follow God's Ten Commandments ... it's not that difficult.
I found that laughably ironic, actually.

Another group: jesus is the only way to heaven(DON'T BELIEVE OPRAH) [sic]
Okay, I watched that video and it angered me terribly!!!!! She said there are many paths to God, but call them whatever you want ???? some may call it God and some may call it something else.... She also said, There couldn't possibly be One Way w/ millions of people in the world. WOW - she has no faith in our awesome God. She took God out of the box????...OMG that's ridiculous.... She clearly doesn't believe scripture if she believes that it is all a "Feeling" and not a "belief". She said if it's about a belief - it's not truly God. Give me a break. The Bible tells us exactly how to be saved. She is just calling her religion god.... and it's a lowercase "g" for sure.... Boycott Oprah for sure !!!!
Other Oprah facebook hate groups are little more nice about it and not every poster is filled with such superiority.

Now to my real point (maybe): This post has evolved a little as I was writing it. As you've probably noticed, I wanted to write about how Oprah is killing kids. Then I wanted to point out some christian assholes. Now, I think I just want to say that christians like the two quoted above only help to affirm my non-belief. If I believed in a God/gods/god, I don't think I'd follow one that is only going to let 1/6th of the world population into heaven because the rest aren't christians. People grow up with the faith their parents teach them. Remember Santa Claus? Didn't we all believe in him?

Don't misinterpret me, not all people of faith act like this. I hate it when people lump others into broad catagories and hold everyone accountable and I'm not going to do it here or in my life. Even my fellow atheist are all very different from one another. (I think I might make my own anti-Oprah group. I'll let you know.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Google Analytics

I love statistics. I spend hours every week analyzing the traffic on my Flickr page. I've had a simple page counter on this blog for while (scroll way down to the bottom of this page to see it) but it just doesn't satisfy my need for stats.

Today, I added the code for Google Analytics to this blog. I'm not sure how well I did since I'm no coder. I followed the fairly straightforward instructions, so I'm optimistic. Google says I should know in about 24 hours whether or not it's correct.

If everything works, I'll soon be able to track all sorts of cool things about you readers. How many pages you view, how long you linger, traffic sources and other cool site usage stats.

My Favorite Essential Astronomy Sites

Moon Venus Jupiter (4)

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. According the the IYA2009:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery.

In honor of this great cause, I've compiled a short list of essential web sites and tools to help you view our great universe this year.

The first website I check whenever I'm going to be out and about is: Skymaps.com This site provides the latest monthly start maps. These are very easy to read, yet detailed enough to use if you have a good telescope. They provide PDF versions that print out nicely (the Milky Way is in color!)

The second website I visit is NASA Skywatch. It contains a great little JAVA application that shows you the next pass of various space vehicles. Simply enter your zip code and pick which space vehicle you want and hit the "next pass" button. I always look for passes of the International Space Station. With it's new solar panels, it's very easy to spot. In our latitude, in Minnesota, ISS usually shows up in the northern sky around the star Polaris (the north star). The app gives you the rise and set times and the closest approach times along with all the angles and directions you will need. Try the SkyTrack map for a graphical representation.

If I'm looking for a star party, I always check out the Minnesota Astronomical Society site. I checked out one of their public star parties at Onan Observatory a couple years ago. Their Onan Observatory is located inside of Baylor Regional Park near Norwood - Young America. They have some really nice scopes and extra nice people. There are some links to Onan on the MAS site but here is a brief rundown:

  • A computer controlled Meade 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain sitting atop a massive concrete pier
  • Two state-of-the-art systems -- one primarily for visual observing, the other intended for video-enabled observing. Each system has multiple refracting and reflecting telescopes, each selected with a specific purpose in mind and installed atop computer-controlled Paramount ME mounts
  • Standalone and mounted solar viewing telescopes equipped with h-alpha filters
  • 15x80 binoculars on a portable parallelogram mount
  • And more!

Their events are free but the park has a small fee. There was no shortage of people willing to answer questions and talk about the sky. It was great fun and I learned a lot. Read their Star Party Guidelines before attending.

In my opinion, these are the best sites for amateur astronomy. The simple and easy to read information is invaluable. I think it's especially fun to wow my friends when ISS flies over. (I got to do that twice last year.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Now You Can Control the Hubble Space Telescope!

Go to the HubbleSite and vote for your favorite spot to point the Hubble Space Telescope. You could win a nice print too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science

I recommend that everyone read this article by Robert L. Park. The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science. It's old but still applies.

We are constantly bombarded with claims every day. Our friends, our television and our computers are filled with "miracle" cures, get rich quick schemes and dieting hooey. By knowing these signs, you'll be better equipped to quickly evaluate extraordinary claims before you lose your money or your health.

This article is really just a good place to start. I highly recommend that everyone read The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Carl Sagan muses on the current state of scientific thought, which offers him marvelous opportunities to entertain us with his own childhood experiences, the newspaper morgues, UFO stories, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of pseudoscience. Along the way he debunks alien abduction, faith-healing, and channeling; refutes the arguments that science destroys spirituality, and provides a "baloney detection kit" for thinking through political, social, religious, and other issues.

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for the tip on Park's article.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thanks #3!

I've been ill the last few days so deep thinking has been difficult. Hopefully, I'll have something interesting to post within the next couple days.

Thank you to my 3rd subscriber, whoever you are. I hope you enjoy my blog.

In the mean time, here is an interesting video of James Randi talking about the "miracle" accident on the Hudson.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

Moon Venus Jupiter (4)

I just entered four of my best astronomy shots in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest. It's pretty cool. There aren't many photos entered yet, but I'm not getting my hopes up. The contest runs through July.

Here are some details:

I'm Natasha and I work at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. I just wanted to introduce myself and to tell you a little bit about this group.


We've created the Astronomy Photographer of the Year group to run alongside our new photography competition, of the same name. We wanted there to be a place where everyone could see photos entered so far, pick up astro-photography tips and find out what the judges are looking for.


We're also really excited to have teamed up with the people at Astrometry.net who will be adding what we've called 'astrotags' to your photos in the group... think geotags, but for space.

Go ahead and enter your best shots, especially if they aren't as good as mine.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Top 10 Photos of 2008

Fireworks and Moon

Fireworks and the Moon

Here is a set of My Top 10 of 2008 I took all these photos. I didn't use any particular criteria to select them. They are my favorites, that's all. Thanks for all your viewing. I had over 8000 views starting July 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not too Happy with the Digg Community

I've been digging Digg.com a lot lately. It's a fun way to find interesting and funny articles on the web. It's also driven traffic to this blog and my photostream on Flickr.

I had this exchange with Digg support today:

First, I sent them this:
I enjoy your social bookmarking site. It's altered how I search for news and read stories on the internet. It's also increase traffic to my photos and my blog.

Lately, I've been trying to Digg some very fine articles on www.randi.org but I keep getting the following error message from your site: "This URL has been widely reported by users for one of the following reasons: being used to spam Digg's submission process, posting spam content, or posting off-topic content" I"m wondering specifically why this error is coming up. The James Randi Educations Foundation is a fine non-profit organization that promotes science education. Is there anything I can do to correct this error so I can digg their content?
They sent back this:
Thanks for taking the time to contact us at Digg.com regarding this website.

As you know, Digg is a community-driven website – our community has consistently reported the domain to which you refer as spam and a news middle man.

From our FAQ (www.digg.com/faq):

Does Digg differentiate between spam and spamming? Spam is very subjective. Many times, the spammer honestly doesn't think they are spammers, so we generally leave that up to the Digg community to decide with the report/bury feature. We may delete users who blatantly and consistently submit obvious spam. Additionally, comment spam is against our TOS and will result in an account ban or deletion, depending on the severity. Submission spamming is different because it may be quality content but the submitter is "spamming" every story from their blog/site. While we welcome users to submit their own content, overdoing it often incites the users to mark the user as a spammer, the site as a spam site, and otherwise decent content as blogspam. We
recommend considering this before you engage in this activity. Remember, if domains are consistently buried and reported as spam, the site may be banned.

Because unblocking the domain would not be in line with the best interests of the larger Digg community, we will not reverse this decision.

For more information, please see http://digg.com/faq and http://digg.com/tos

Thank you,
- Digg Support Team
I wonder when the Digg community will be sick of me Digging JREF posts on my blog....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Understanding What Science Is

Here is a link to a very interesting article by my favorite astronomer, Phil Plait: Understanding What Science Is Phil links to a site called Understanding Science for everything you need to know about the nature and process of science. Check out their Science Toolkit. It will help you cut through the spin in the media to get to the real science.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More proof that people are math stupid...

I came across this article today. I figured I'd check it out because I didn't know exactly how the wind chill factor is calculated. It is calculated, by the way. It's not measured. It's not a temperature. It's a calculation to estimate how cold, cold feels to a person.

Good Question: How Do They Figure Out Wind Chill?

The formula is laughably complex. In this equation, T stands for temperature in Fahrenheit, and V stands for the velocity of the wind.
Wind Chill = 35.74 + 0.6215T - 35.75(V0.16) + 0.4275T(V0.16)

"Laughably complex"? Give me a break. There are only 2 variables in this equation: Temperature and Velocity. There is some simple addition, subtraction and multiplication. Anyone who's taken even the most rudimentary course in Algebra should be able to do this. I don't think kids should be able to graduate high school, if they can't solve this formula without a calculator. Perhaps the reporter was befuddled by all the decimal points.

If you want some really complicated math try Integral Calculus. I wouldn't call it laughable, but it's significantly more complicated. If every understood math a little better, I think it might be slightly more difficult for politicians to pass trillion dollar budgets. (by the way, a trillion is a MILLION MILLION)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blog Stats

I got this stat report on Monday. Pretty cool, I guess. Looks like 410 visitors total. I think all my digging and facebooking is paying off.

Site: "Mully410 Critical Blog" [ http://mully410.blogspot.com/ ]


Total counter state:
Hits: 1120
Hosts: 202
Visitors: 410
Sessions: 486


From the beginning of the month:
Hits: 389
Hosts: 71
Visitors: 90
Sessions: 139

Last week:
Hits: 270
Hosts: 61
Visitors: 64
Sessions: 80

I'm using gostats.com. It's free.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Remind me...why is Religion Good?

Here is a tidbit from one of the most religious countries in the world:  Two Men Stoned to Death for Adultery in ...

It's about time we stop those fake Virgin Mary sightings. (wait...which ones are real?)

And yes...people are still killing "witches."  This one from another highly religious country.  Here is an article about it.  Watch this sad story...

 

While American's aren't stoning people or killing witches, they sure do teach a lot of hate and bigotry.  Check out the Boy Scouts of America now-a-days.  Atheists are banned from that organization. (this video contains profanity)

 

The point of this post:  Please stop thinking (and telling me) that we need religion to gain peace, maintain morality or eradicate evil.  (and for the love of your god/God/gods, post some comments)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is Your Misunderstanding, Apathy or Ignorance of Math Costing You?

Misunderstanding, apathy and plan old ignorance of math can cost you money. It leads to millions of dollars spent on psychics and other shams. I've found some very interesting links to help you understand probabilities.

The Power of Coincidence: Some Notes on "Psychic" Predictions

This article by Robert Novella does a great job explaining probabilities. Here is an excerpt:

For example, what are the odds of two people sharing the same birthday in a room containing twenty three people? Many people I have spoken with say it must be one in thirty or more. Surprisingly to most people, it is only one in two [1]. Not knowing this sort of thing has caused many people to conclude that since their experience seemed so unlikely, perhaps they share some special link or that a supernatural force brought them together.

Some examples of coincidence I've read about are pretty interesting. For example, when someone is thinking of a particular friend then that friend calls them on the phone, they may think: "Wow, I must have had a premonition" or "I'm psychic." The reality is we fail to count all the times when we were thinking about that friend and they didn't call. Another example from my personal experience is prayer. When I used to pray and that prayer came true, I thought "cool, god is listening." What I eventually figured out is that nothing happened almost every time I prayed and when something did happen it was coincidence.

Cold reading is something I've covered in this post. This understanding of counting the hits and forgetting the misses is essential for the flim flammers who sell you their services.

The Law of Truly Large Numbers is explained pretty well at the Skeptics Dictionary. This Wikipedia version is kind of short but sweet. For even more, go learn about the Law of Large Numbers and the Law of Small Numbers. Then start counting the misses.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Schmap Houston Sixth Edition: Photo Inclusion


Sat5cm
Originally uploaded by Mully410

A couple weeks ago I got request for permission to publish this photo in the Schmap Houston guide. I thought ok, whatever. Today, I got a response:

Hi [Mully410],

I am delighted to let you know that your submitted photo
has been selected for inclusion in the newly released sixth
edition of our Schmap Houston Guide:

Space Center Houston
http://www.schmap.com/houston/tours_tour1/p=29326/i=29326_32.jpg
It goes on to say:
Thanks so much for letting us include your photo - please
enjoy the guide!

Best regards,

Emma Williams,
Managing Editor, Schmap Guides
www.schmap.me/emma.williams
It sounded slightly cooler than it turned out to be. Although it's nice to get recognized for ones outstanding super cool work, it's kinda lame to get recognized with 9 bajillion others. If you go the link above, my photo should come up first, but if you scroll through the photos there are a lot of them that are not mine. Time will tell. If this photo starts getting a bunch of views, I'll be impressed.

And if you are ever in Houston, go here.

Thank You.

The Mully410 Critical Blog now has its first RSS feed subscriber. Cool. I have an idea who it might be but I don't know for sure (thanks Mom). Anyway, whoever you are: thanks!

This blog also exceeded 1000 all time page views this week with over 350 unique visitors. Nice.

I think it's pretty cool that I have 19 people now signed up on Facebook's NetworkedBlogs application. So if you are on Facebook, please join.

Of course, all this is meaningless in a financial sense. I want to keep my blog ad free for now. I suppose if I start getting a jillion hits some day, I'll get some ads to make a few cents.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Social Security, a Ponzi Scheme?

Someone please explain: Why is the Social Security system in America NOT a Ponzi Scheme?

Social Security as explained by Wikipedia:
The Act is formally cited as the Social Security Act, ch. 531, 49 Stat. 620, now codified as 42 U.S.C. ch.7. The Act provided benefits to retirees and the unemployed, and a lump-sum benefit at death. Payments to current retirees were (and continue to be) financed by a payroll tax on current workers' wages, half directly as a payroll tax and half paid by the employer.
Ponzi Scheme as explained by Wikipeida:
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors out of the money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit.
Investor? Retiree? Worker? What's the difference?


An unrelated note to ponder (also from Wikipedia):
By dollars paid, the U.S. Social Security program is the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in the federal budget, with 20.9% for social security and 20.4% for Medicare/Medicaid, compared to 20.1% for military expenditure. [5] Social Security is currently the largest social insurance program in the U.S., constituting 37% of government expenditure and 7% of the gross domestic product[6]

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flickr Update


Old Naked Statue (3)
Originally uploaded by Mully410

I took this photo at Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park last Saturday. 132 views so far... I checked my Flickr stats and most of the views are coming from Flickr searches for the word "naked." LOL About 30 of these views came from digg.com readers. I'm pretty sure if a high school art teacher created a statue like this he'd end up in prison. She looks pretty young to me.

Anyway...This photo, in large part, was responsible for pushing the total views of my photostream over 8000 yesterday. Wow. 8000. At this rate, I should break the 10,000 mark within the next couple weeks.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Richard Wiseman Blog

I just found a new blog that is very interesting. Richard Wiseman is a scientist that studies psychology. He is known for his interesting and entertaining experiments and his brilliance, of course.

From his web site:

Prof Richard Wiseman is based at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, and has gained an international reputation for research into quirky areas of psychology, including deception, humour, luck and the paranormal. Prof Wiseman has written The Luck Factor – a best selling book exploring the lives and minds of lucky people. His latest book, Quirkology, explores the curious science of everyday life, including the psychology of lying, love, and laughter. A passionate advocate for science, Prof Wiseman is well known for his media appearances, high-profile talks, live performances, and large-scale studies. Over 1 million people have taken part in his mass participation experiments, and his YouTube channel has received over 5 million views. Prof Wiseman also regularly acts as a creative consultant for print, broadcast and new media.

His new blog is here: http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/

I've added his blog to my list of daily reads. Try it out.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory


Massive Leaf
Originally uploaded by Mully410

A friend and I spent a few hours at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory today. It was great fun. This is one of about 150 pics I took. I've posted 66 of the best ones and one video here.

Who is Closed Minded?

I am often accused of being closed minded because I'm skeptical. It's true. I do close my mind to ridiculous claims based on unsubstantiated and unverifiable evidence. I also close my mind to arguments that I've already evaluated and researched. This is often difficult for people I know to understand because they are at a different stage in their own evaluation process or they are apathetic and are not interested in exploring or evaluating the evidence. Unfortunately for me, I often come off as condescending or indignant.

Brian Dunning does a great job in this podcast of addressing closed mindedness of the skeptic and the true believer. It's a little more complicated than you might think.
The real difference between skeptics and believers is that skeptics have a useful foundation of scientific knowledge and an aptitude for following the scientific method. These tools allow us to distinguish poor quality evidence from good quality evidence. And, importantly, they help restrain us from drawing poorly supported conclusions from the evidence that we do accept, no matter how strongly we want those conclusions to be justified.
You can either read Brian's post or listen to his podcast. Once done with this podcast, I suggest you browse though his collection. He has many interesting podcasts that may help you think through and evaluate extraordinary claims.

I'm going to try to do better at being less condescending and less indignant because it pisses me off when people are that way to me. However, by doing this, I'm going to strongly avoid becoming credulous and agreeable for the sake of avoiding conflict.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Please Explain: Jeremiah 10: 1-4

I'm confused about the Christmas Tree after I read Jeremiah Chapter 10 verses 1-4 in my bible.

Jeremiah 10

1Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

This is a translation from the King James version at biblegateway.com. There is likely some variation between the 100s of different bibles and translations out there. It seems to me that LORD is saying that the heathens are cutting down trees, decorating them and that's bad.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year of Living Gloomily - washingtonpost.com

Here is an interesting well written article about how reporting by the media can have an effect on our economy and why.

The Year of Living Gloomily - washingtonpost.com

You may have to sign up for a free account at the washingpost.com What a pain.

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