Archive for the ‘What I'm Reading’ Category

Fallacies, Fallacies, Everywhere!

February 2, 2012

Sometimes I get stuck in a conversation with someone who is making piss-poor arguments, and I just want to shoot ’em all down. Sometimes I don’t get a chance to do this because I can’t get a word in edge-wise, or because I’m not quick enough on my feet that day to identify the particular BS being spouted. I have a lot of respect for people who can dissect an argument into its components and separate the bogus from the the valid points. This is a skill – a learnable skill – that can take discussions to the next level and allow topics to be examined rationally.

Evan Bernstein from the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe recently responded to a fabulously fallacious and nonsensical email from a listener on the SGU blog, The Rogue’s Gallery. First Evan presents the email in its entirety, then proceeds to break it down one sentence at a time. This is an epic response, and I wanted to share with all of you.

“I don’t like your attitude on the show. You said the Chem-trails are not real. I have seen them myself and have taken many pictures. I have also seen footage of a weatherman in Oregon saying that the military was doing experiments and laying the chem-trails. Why would you be so sure that they are not real. Who are you?? A bunch of snotty punks that never leave your office? I bet the whole show is there to make real people who seek real truth; look stupid. The “experts” like you claim to be, lie all the fucking time; and so do the people on your show. Thats why you dont have the guts to put up a phone number for calls. I bet you are funded by the goverment, or drug companies or something. No normal people are so arrogant. You are not the “experts” of anything, except lies.”

Wow, that’s quite an email.  Allow me to reply one sentence at a time.

 “I don’t like your attitude on the show.” 

Unsubscribe.

“You said the Chem-trails are not real.”

Yes.

“I have seen them myself and have taken many pictures.” 

 You saw contrails, not “chem-trails”.

“I have also seen footage of a weatherman in Oregon saying that the military was doing experiments and laying the chem-trails.” 

Argument From Authority (a very poor one, to boot) 

“Why would you be so sure that they are not real.” 

Evidence, lack thereof.

Who are you??

I see where the question mark from the prior “question” went.  

 A bunch of snotty punks that never leave your office?”

Ad Hominem.

“I bet the whole show is there to make real people who seek real truth; look stupid.”

Only those who regularly botch their punctuation.

The “experts” like you claim to be, lie all the fucking time; and so do the people on your show.

Asshole Fallacy.

“Thats why you dont have the guts to put up a phone number for calls.”

(212) 384-1000

“I bet you are funded by the goverment, or drug companies or something.”

Something.

“No normal people are so arrogant.”

(Fill in your own thought, I really have no idea what this means.)

“You are not the “experts” of anything, except lies.”

Lies indeed, especially exposing the people who spout and regurgitate them.

See? EPIC. Not that this response would make any difference to the listener, but sometimes it’s enough to examine the message, deconstruct it, realize that there’s nothing you could say to make a difference, and move on with your life.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe was my gateway drug into skepticism back in late 2009. My sister recommended the SGU podcast for its laid-back presentation of science and critical thought. And it is laid-back. This isn’t a hard-core science podcast; there is a sharp focus on skepticism and rationality (of which science and evidence play a huge part).

Listening to SGU renewed my interest in recognizing logical fallacies, and has even pushed me outside of my normal biology and medicine comfort zones to explore cosmology, physics and robotics. Each show has several regular weekly sections and the rest is a bunch of unscripted bantering between the five hosts. I describe it to newbies as a nerdier version of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! If this sounds like your gig, check it out The Skeptics Guide to the Universe on iTunes.

Photoshopping Our Perception of Beauty

January 1, 2012

We’ve heard that celebrity/modeling photography and Photoshop go hand-in-hand, but how many of us can visualize what that actually means? Much kudos and thanks to Jason Thibeault at Lousy Canuck for his article, Teaching girls that pretty isn’t pretty enough, in which he gave some examples of the unrealistic body images and ideas of beauty that are planted in our brains by the media, and how these software-designed bodies and faces have little to do with what any of us really look like.

The website that he cites, Forever Healthy and Young, shows 60 models and celebrities before and after Photoshop. Here’s a few of the before and afters…but you gotta go read Jason’s article for the full list.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were more gorgeous models with freckles so that people with freckles might see them as just another physical characteristic instead of as a blemish? We could start by letting this gorgeous woman’s speckled splendor shine.

Guess what? George Clooney don’t need no Photoshop help. He’s a kick-ass actor and drop-dread sexy with the wrinkles and salt-and-pepper hair.

I found myself looking at the befores, then at the afters, then at the befores…and just felt sad. All of these beautiful people are beautiful in their own right, unadulterated. But somebody somewhere decided that a few of the hard-earned wrinkles, the little brown birthmark, the curvy hip had to be erased, blended or flattened to make a unique human being look more like the same flawless, general, standard, boring, china doll.

Make sure to check out the three links at the bottom of the Forever Healthy and Young site that Jason references in his post. They have links to stories about recent laws, proposed restrictions, and bans against Photoshopped images. Food for thought…the idea of legislating alteration of photos may be a discussion for a future post.

A Sad Day in the Science Classroom

December 2, 2011

I opened up the Star Tribune to a sad story. From the Star Tribune:

Thursday morning, ninth-graders in the second-hour science class at Maple Grove Junior High School had turned their desks toward the science table where teacher Matthew Achor conducted experiments for the class final.

The first time the teacher dropped a match into a jug of methanol, Neuberger said the experiment seemed to work. “It made a loud boom and a little flame,” he said. “Everyone thought that was cool and clapped.”

Neuberger looked down at his paper to begin writing down his observations. “I’m pretty sure he was starting it up to do it a second time,” Neuberger said. “And the next thing I know I’m on fire.”

Several students were injured during this science experiment. One of the students, Dane Neuberger, was severely injured with second degree burns to his face.  All of the students are expected to make a full recovery, and according to the article it doesn’t look like Neuberger will need skin grafts. Only minor damage was sustained to the classroom.

Details are slim in the article, but it sounds like the appropriate actions were taken after the explosion. A fire blanket was used to wrap Neuberger and an ambulance was called immediately. The room was evacuated and the fire department was called to investigate. The article doesn’t discuss the type of bottle or the amount or type of methyl alcohol employed in the experiment.

The science behind what was being taught.

The purposes of this experiment could be to demonstrate an exothermic reaction, oxygen supply in combustions (if a narrow-necked bottle is used as heat, flame and gas exits the bottle, fresh oxygen is sucked back into the bottle, re-igniting any remaining methanol vapor), detonation velocity, expansion of gases, etc.

This video shows the experiment as performed on four different alcohols:

The way it works is that liquid methanol is put into a bottle and allowed to evaporate, leaving methanol vapor in the bottle. Heat energy – a match, in this case – is added to the bottle, causing a combustible chemical reaction. Visible flame and a loud whoosh” is heard during the reaction. The methanol vapors are ignited, and liquid by-product (H2O) is left in the bottom of the bottle.

In the article above it’s mentioned that this teacher had been performing this experiment for years, and I found several online mentions of this as an acceptable high-school chemistry-level experiment. Some sites perform the study outdoors, some indoors. I do not remember this experiment performed when I was in junior high or high school.

Science teachers – Do you use this experiment in your classes? What safety precautions do you employ? For the rest of you – Do you remember this experiment from your days in the chemistry classroom? Did you have any larger-than-intended explosions?

Upcoming Show: Atheists Talk with Alex Rosenberg

October 27, 2011

I had (great intentions for conceiving and writing) an awesome post for yesterday, but instead spent most of the evening (you know, after cooking dinner, preparing lunch for today and eating dinner over some Mythbusters with the Hubby; I totally knew those breast implants weren’t going to expand at high pressures!) writing up my first-ever Atheists Talk radio program notes for the MN Atheists website! And then I had to muddle my way through navigating the website for the first time. I admit, there were a few frantic emails between me and the other administrators last night and this morning (frantic on my part, not theirs), and at least one header that included the plea “HALP!”. But I finally got all of the content in the right place and in a format that I’m almost happy with(dadgummed HTML!).

On Sunday we’re interviewing the American philosopher Dr. Alex Rosenberg about his new book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. I’m currently halfway through it and I’m enjoying his writing style. It’s a lot of science and deep reading, but every so often Rosenberg will slip in some completely unexpected humor and I’m reminded that, oh yeah – this is actually really fun stuff! 

I’ll be interested to hear the interview because there are a few things in the book that I’m not completely on board with, and I’m excited to hear Dr. Rosenberg expound on his ideas. This will only be my second time hosting, so I’m still allowed to be a little star-struck about our guests, right?

If you want to learn more about the upcoming radio interview on this Sunday October 30th at 9am (and see my shiny write-up!) visit mnatheists.org

Lyme Disease – Always Learning.

October 21, 2011

If you’ve ever been camping or hiking or hunting or had an outdoor pet or gone anywhere near a tree or have a TV or know anyone who fits any of these situations, you’ve probably heard of Lyme Disease. I live in Minnesota, land of forests and lakes, big-ass mosquitos and lots and lots of ticks. I think it’s only natural and healthy for me to have an interest in the subject.

Disclaimers: I am not a doctor, nor an infectious disease researcher, nor a specialist on Lyme Disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). I do have experience with serological testing, immunoassays and laboratory science. This blog post was inspired by a press release about antibodies linked to long-term Lyme symptoms. I welcome and appreciate any comments, corrections or conversation that are expressed with respect, and in the case of claims, with references. Also, I hold up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the gold standard for dissemination of accurate and reliable public information on infectious disease. If you think that the CDC or “western medicine” is misguided or intentionally evil, or that all American physicians are controlled by the mob (hat tip to an earlier commenter), you should probably stop reading here.

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Cruise, Costumes and Chores: A Weekend

August 9, 2011

I had my first full weekend all to myself in three weeks! Work is finally slowing down for TheBigProject. All of the testing is done and now it’s paperwork, documentation and repeat. There are still some late nights, but it should be tapering off to a more normal pace around here.

Friday night after work I hung out with friends until about 9:30pm, then came home and went to bed. I managed to make it through about two paragraphs of The Ship Who Searched before succumbing to sleep. I barely managed to set the book on the bed stand before going under, and I slept in until 9am the next morning. Ahhhh! I needed that.

Saturday was COSTUME AND CRUISE day! I didn’t have time to pull together a costume for this past CONvergence, so I’ve gotten a bee in my bonnet to actually make a costume (or two) for Dragon*Con. I reaaaaalllly wanted to make a Minion costume (from Despicable Me), but because I’ll be flying to Dragon*Con I didn’t see any cheap, easy way to get the finished costume from Minneapolis down to Atlanta. So maybe I’ll save that one for CONvergence 2012.

I actually ran into that a lot during planning. I want to be able to transport a costume (or two) in one carry-on (EDIT: checked) bag. The only large luggage that I own is soft-sided or I could pack a sturdy cardboard box. So I’m limited by size, weight and durability of a finished costume (as well as breathability – I’m going to be in Atlanta, GA at the beginning of September and I hear that’s still hot season). And for some reason I’m all about constructing a costume. I may purchase a secondary costume from an online store – something that consists of easily pack-able themed clothing and a few small accessories, but I want one uber-costume that takes a little thought, is maybe (dare I hope) original, and requires some hardware. If it doesn’t require at least one trip to Home Depot, it’s out of the running.

I spent all of Saturday morning bouncing ideas off of The Very Patient Hubby and I think we’ve finally got something good. It took longer to collect supplies than I thought; I spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday shopping all over Minneapolis and the greater metro area. Here’s the list of stores that I’ve visited:

  • Saturday: Border’s (book store), Michael’s (crafts store), Walgreen’s, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Walmart, Home Depot (there – a Home Depot stop! We are now legit.).
  • Sunday: SR Harris Fabric Outlet
  • Monday: The Paper Depot, Office Max and a second trip to Home Depot (now we’re double legit). 

Phew! The final purchases now include

  • 1 children’s story book
  • 45 yards of fake ivy
  • 4 red poster boards
  • 15 feet of 8-gauge copper wire
  • 4 wire connectors
  • 2 yards of green upholstery fabric
  • 1 package of business cards
  • 1 rubber stamp and green ink pad
  • 1 themed paper punch
  • Adhesive jewel dots
  • Adhesive foam scrapbooking spacers
  • 1 regular paper punch
  • 1 red fine-tip Sharpie
  • Gorilla glue
  • Twine (because what project is complete without twine?)

Now to put them all together…

In between running around for costuming supplies on Saturday, the Hubby and I took a Minnesota Riverboat cruise. We drove to Harriet Island in Saint Paul and boarded one of the Padelford paddle boats for a 1.5-hour trip south along the Mississippi. We managed to snag chairs outside on the lower deck, so I had some great opportunities for taking photos of the people, birds and structures that we passed along the way. Plus, they had a bar. So there was that.

Old Factory

Fishing the MIssissippi

Bald Eagle Soaring

Osprey

St. Paul under the High Bridge

I have more pictures of our cruise here on Flickr.

Sunday was no fun, but it was fulfilling. I woke up in a cleaning frenzy and straightened up the living room, cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, took out the garbage and recycling and did two loads of laundry, and all of that between the hours of 8:30am and 10:30am. Then I went costume supply shopping and errand-running (ewwww…Costco on a Sunday afternoon). I certainly racked up the FourSquare points that day. The Hubby came home from running his own errands and we cooked brats on the grill and watched The End of Time: Parts 1 and 2 on Netflix. How did I not see this before??? Why wasn’t this part of Season Five of Doctor Who (did I just miss it because of a Netflix mishap)? It was good…I almost started crying when David Tennant…you know…did that thing where he became Matt Smith.

And then it was Monday. Wheeee!

That was a good Monday

July 25, 2011

Not the work part. At work there were some things, and then there was some stuff, so the work part of Monday was just meh. But after work has been fun!

Last week I was invited to write a blog post about my experience with Virtual Drinking Skeptically, a social videoconferencing group that brings people together to discuss skeptic topics. My piece is just a write-up of a recent VDS event, but I was honored to be asked to write about it, and today it was published on the Virtual Drinking Skeptically website. So that was cool.

After work I went to the doctor for a routine check up and then I had dinner plans with some friends. My appointment was done at 4:15 and dinner wasn’t until 6:30, so I decided to stop in to Half Price Books. I don’t know why I did that; I have an entire five-shelf bookcase filled with books that I haven’t read yet. But (as always), I made a great find:

Background: So, I’m all excited about going to Dragon*Con this year, right? I’m so excited that I forced my Mom to listen while I listed and described all of the different tracks that will be available at the convention. She perked up a bit when I told her that there is an entire track devoted to Anne McCaffrey. I confided that I hadn’t read anything by McCaffery and she ordered me to go read The Ship Who Sang. I’m easy so I put it on my must acquire and read list.

I couldn’t get it at Barnes and Noble without a special order, and there weren’t any copies conveniently located at the local library. I went online to purchase an e-book, but ended up finding a free PDF of the book instead. Unfortunately there were typos in it and I couldn’t download it to my phone without paying for it. But, I started reading it on the computer and was hooked.

It’s a really interesting story: In the future those who are born with physical disabilities but healthy brains are either euthanized or turned into “shell-people”; brains that control machinery. They are individuals with rights, and are self-aware, highly intelligent and possess a wide range of human emotions. They are employed by the Central Worlds to do things like man spaceships. The Ship Who Sang is about a shell-person named Helva and the adventures she has with her various “brawns” – the pilots who accompany her on her missions.

So, to bring a long story to an end, I was very excited to find the first three books in the series at the used bookstore, and as soon as I’m done with this blog I intended to spend the rest of the evening finishing The Ship Who Sang.

This next part is a little gossipy and petty, but I like it.

After Half Price Books I still had a little over an hour until dinner. I stopped in to a Caribou Coffee to sit back in one of their big comfy reading chairs, drink a frosty summer coffee drink, read and check the Twitters. Sadly, the comfy chairs were taken up by a man and his two young daughters. And when I say taken up, I mean I think they had moved in a few days ago. They had two netbooks on the table, the girls were laying on the couch watching a movie on a third computer, magazine were strewn every which way and the dad had his socked feet on the coffee table and was reading a book. Ah well, there were plenty of the hard high-back chairs so I took a table nearby the comfy chairs in case the man and his daughters left.

About 10 minutes after I sat down I heard the Dad say, “Girls, let’s go next door and have some dinner.” So they get up and leave their shit all over the comfy chairs. All over MY comfy chair. That’s not cool! You don’t get to hog all of the good comfy chair seating in the coffee shop while you go to dinner! And they left all of their expensive stuff just sitting there for any yahoo to steal. So…I go up to the barista and say, “I just heard that man tell his daughters that they should go get some dinner, and they left all of their computers and stuff behind.” The barista gave me a look like she understood the situation perfectly, and with a slightly naughty look said, “Really? They left? Hmmm…maybe I should put it behind the counter so nobody steals it.” And she did. She gathered up all of their junk, put it in a box and put the box behind the counter. When dude came back 30 minutes later he saw me reclining on “his” chair and said, “Hey, I had a bunch of stuff over here.” I gave him big doe eyes and said, “Yeah, the barista put it behind the counter so no one would steal it. You had, like, three laptops just sitting out in the open.” He got all sputtery and mad.

And then it was exactly time to go to dinner.

Dinner was…oh, dinner was fabulous. I went for sushi with five lady-friends and we had a ball talking pop culture, books, travel, food and all of those other relaxing dinner topics. We ordered a ton of appetizers, drinks, one of those big sushi boats, and a few desserts at the end of the meal. The food was very good and reasonably priced. If you’re looking for sushi in the Lakes/Uptown area of Minneapolis I highly recommend Wakame.

And now if you’ll excuse me…the shell-people are waiting.

Interwebs – you waited for me!

June 14, 2011

I wasn’t sure you’d still be here when I got back!

So, yeah. Hey.

How ya doing, Internet? My name’s Brianne, and I’ve been out of you for about a week and a half now, but I’m super excited about getting back into you.

Work has been crazy, but in a good way. I like being busy, having challenging goals and deadlines to meet. The frustrations are frustrating, but the wins are AWESOME. But there have been some long hours…about 120 of them in the past two weeks.

So I’ve been struggling to stay abreast of the latest online news, and holy crap has there been some. Sadly, I haven’t had a lot of time to process – let alone blog – some of the best stuff. And the Tonys…I missed the Tonys! I was going to bring chicken pot pie, chocolate salty balls and cheesy poofs to a friend’s house to watch the Tonys and show my support for The Book of Mormon, but turns out they didn’t need my contribution – they took home NINE  freaking Tonys! Woo-hoo!

Oooo…oh yeah, and I have a netbook now, and I’ve been doing my Rosetta Stone for Spanish. If there is ever a young male underneath a table, or if a boy and girl are in a boat, I can totally tell you so in two languages. Awwww yeah!

In between running assays and writing reports, I have managed to sneak in a few chapters of Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett. I’m a grudging fan of the Discworld series; I grew up on Piers Anthony’s Xanth – back then there were no other fantasy worlds as far as I was concerned. So, I missed out on Ankh-Morpork until just recently when some good friends re-introduced me to the books. And actually, these friends are involved with putting on the North American Discworld Convention that is taking place in Madison in a few weeks – there are still tickets available, you guys. If you’re a fan, you should go; Sir Terry is going to be present and there are all types of art, theater, role-play, storytelling, costuming and other Discworld merriments to be had. Did I mention that it’s in Madison, Wisconsin – a mere four hours away from the Twin Cities?

So, no news or rants today, but to wrap it up I want to share a couple of my favorite quotes so far from the Harper paperback 2008 edition of Pyramids: 

On gods physically walking among men:

And Dil was realizing that there are few things that so shake belief as seeing, clearly and precisely, the object of that belief. Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn’t believing. It’s where belief stops, because it isn’t needed anymore. -page 178

On camels, the greatest mathematicians in the history of Discworld:

Human mathematical development had always been held back by everyone’s instinctive tendency, when faced with something really complex in the way of triform polynomials or parametric differentials, to count fingers. Camels started from the word go by counting numbers.

Deserts were a great help, too. There weren’t many distractions. As far as camels were concerned, the way to mighty intellectual development was to have nothing much to do and nothing to do it with. -page 193

Absolutely awesome, odd, engaging fantasy storytelling.

See you tomorrow!

Biodorks…We’re multiplying.

December 12, 2010

Look – there’s another biodork!  Only she’s BioDork, so you don’t get us confused.

I found this BioDork blog on tumblr because I have a Google Alert set for “biodork”.  One day, there she was – thanks Google Alerts!  She’s a biology student and her blog is brand new, but already she’s got some really cool links to science new stories, science art, video and quotes.

Of her recent links, I think one of my favorites is this carbon cycle shirt.  Do want!

 

Hiking Cottage Grove Ravine Park

November 12, 2010

I bought this book called Best Hikes of the Twin Cities by Kate Havelin.  It has a list of 31 parks in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Greater Metro Area.

Each park profile lists the park’s location, directions for how to get there, an overview/history of the park, recommended trails, types of terrain, facilities, costs and contacts.  The author breaks the parks down into several groups:

.

  • Kate’s Top 10
  • Night Hikes
  • Hilly Hikes
  • Easy Hikes
  • Birding Hikes
  • Wildflower Hikes
  • Winter Hikes
  • River Hikes
  • Bike Trails

The only thing that I don’t like about the book’s layout are the maps of the park trails.  They’re not very detailed, and the only information that most of the maps provide is the general shape of the “featured” trail.  Accessory/alternate trails aren’t shown and the landmarks are kind of iffy, especially for forested areas.  I’ve tried to use the maps as trail guides a few times and have ended up off the path and unable to make my way back to the “main” route.

But I do like the book for finding and trying out new parks.  Last week we decided that we wanted to take a hilly hike that wasn’t too far away, and using the guide we ended up at Cottage Grove Ravine Park in Cottage Grove Minnesota.  The park in all of it’s autumn splendor and the hills weren’t crazy steep or abundant.  There area was lush, the paths were well-tended, and the lake was very pretty.  There weren’t a lot of people taking advantage of the park, so we felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.

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