Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The brain does much more than just recollect

This meme is replicating all around the science blogohedron. I can't stop it.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
You must first invent the universe

Space is filled with a network of wormholes
You might emerge somewhere else in space
Some when-else in time

The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day venture to the stars

A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunburst, but a galaxy burst
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the Milky Way

The Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths
Of exquisite interrelationships
Of the awesome machinery of nature

I believe our future depends powerfully
On how well we understand this cosmos
In which we float like a mote of dust
In the morning sky

But the brain does much more than just recollect
It inter-compares, it synthesizes, it analyzes
it generates abstractions

The simplest thought like the concept of the number one
Has an elaborate logical underpinning
The brain has it’s own language
For testing the structure and consistency of the world

For thousands of years
People have wondered about the universe
Did it stretch out forever
Or was there a limit

From the big bang to black holes
From dark matter to a possible big crunch
Our image of the universe today
Is full of strange sounding ideas

How lucky we are to live in this time
The first moment in human history
When we are in fact visiting other worlds

The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean
Recently we’ve waded a little way out
And the water seems inviting

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Science Based Medicine is down

Science Based Medicine is down. I'm annoyed 'cuz I love that site. The writers there are real and they kick ass.

Perhaps it's a DOS attack. Or maybe some spambots went crazy. Or maybe their hosting service is crap.

I'm looking forward to a story 'bout this...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Paging Dr. Gonzalez to Cell Block C

Dr. Gonzalez has spent the past 20 years promoting a goofy treatment regimen for people with pancreatic cancer involving pancreatic enzymes by mouth several times daily, coffee enemas twice daily, papaya juice, and a veggie diet.

Thanks to pressure from Senator Dan Burton, NCCAM funded a study comparing this wackaloon therapy to standard chemo. The graph above summarizes the study results published just last month. The SEER line represents historical survival rates across everyone in the US with pancreatic cancer. Note that the newer chemo regimen is a little better than the SEER line while the Gonzalez regimen... well, sucks ass.

Weird thing is, the study ended four years ago. Why the long wait to release the data to the public?

Turns out Dr. Gonzalez used his political connections and piles of money to suppress the results for as long as possible.

Dr. Gonzalez continues to prescribe this stupid coffee enema business to desperate, ill-informed people with pancreatic cancer and plenty of cash. I hope a few may Google his name and find out about that graph. Maybe they'll start the chemo before it's too late and so live a few months longer

More info here.

Crows use 3 tools in sequence

From here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Car crash

From Fucked Gaigin: "The poster comments on YouTube that airbags and seatbelts did their job but everyone is still shaken up and feeling the aches."

As jarring as this is, I feel it's worth seeing. It's a good reminder to wear your seatbelt and stay alert. Bad stuff can happen fast.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

HAHA, good one, Ramachandran

I'm reading a recent paper* in the journal Perception.

Say, since I'm commenting upon it here, can I get one of those cool research-blogging icons? Or must my comments amount to more than a snort and a little OJ out my nose?

You may not have known, dear reader, that some people feel a strong desire to hack off one of their limbs. They don't talk about these feelings much 'cuz they know others will recoil in horror at the thought. The word for this odd condition is "apotemnophilia."
One curious aspect of apotemnophilia that is unexplained by our model is the associated sexual inclinations in some subjects, namely a desire for intimacy with an amputee. These sexual overtones are probably one reason why people have held a Freudian psychosexual view of the disorder. We postulate that sexual 'aesthetic preference' for certain body morphology is dictated in part by the shape of the cortical representation of the body image and perhaps hardwired in the right parietal. This offers an alternative explanation of why ostriches prefer ostriches as mates (presumably even when smell cues are eliminated) and pigs prefer porcine shapes to humans (which is not to deny that the preference may partly arise through imprinting on one's parents). In rare instances humans prefer sheep (S M Anstis, personal communication) and women are attracted to Neanderthal morphology, but these may represent atavisms.

Haha, "personal communication." Good one.
*"Sexual and food preference in apotemnophilia and anorexia: interactions between 'beliefs' and 'needs' regulated by two-way connections between body image and limbic structures. (Perception, 2009, volume 38)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Check me out, eh? Eh?

Excerpt from Fuck You, Penguin:
"This egotistical little jerk was basically like "Check me out, eh? EH?" and then when people didn't respond he was all "Okay, maybe you don't understand, I AM ONLY ONE AND A HALF INCHES TALL" and stood next to a fucking ruler to illustrate his point.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Obama's Socialist Agenda - Full Text

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Reaction Guys



A LOLtastic meme from a while back that re-surfaced today while surfing about. Go here for the story.

Atheist cat

Obama's talk to school children

Obama will give a talk to kids this Tuesday welcoming them back to school and encouraging them to take their studies seriously. Most kids have heard the "floss; eat your vegetables; keep it in your pants; do your homework" talk often enough to predict every part of it. So typically, I'd expect a lima-beans excitement level among the students, though a few might appreciate the opportunity for a refreshing mid-day nap.

A comment in response to a WSJ article: "No, I am not against children watching and listening to the President of the united States on TV…I am against a socialist muslim talking to them."

Where to begin? This crazy tribalism is antithetical to a civil society.

Perhaps this brouhaha will provide a wonderful teaching moment concerning logical fallacies, particularly the argumentum ad hominem.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"The Medium is the Massage" message

Check out the listing of Marshall McLuhan's iconic The Medium is the Message. This particular printing turns the word "message" into "massage" not just on the cover but the back jacket as well. The Amazon reviewers don't seem to notice. The error continues in their postings.

WTF? How does a publisher screw up the title of so famous a book? And why aren't reviewers LOLing all over this goof?

McLuhan is likely rolling in his grave. Or perhaps he'd say, "told you so."

Hat-tip to The Last Psychiatrist. I agree with him, that there's something creepy in an Orwellian sense here. People in touch with the past are supposed to pipe up and correct the present when it gets the past so wrong. The continuity of the historic record keeps us grounded in reality. It keeps us sane.

Taking Pascal's wager to the horse races

Came across this unique response to Pascal's Wager in a thread at Pharyngula, authored by BrentH.

I first encountered the "What if you're wrong?/Pascal's wager" nugget while an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky when confronted by a recruiter from Campus Crusade for Christ. Having misspent much of my youth skipping from Catholic high school to go to Keeneland and Churchill Downs, I gave my opinion of Pascal's wager to him from a handicappers perspective.

It's as if every world religion has a horse (i.e. god) in a race. Each religion is a first time owner and has never raced a horse before, but that's OK because each owner is guided by advice and strategy from his omniscient talking horse. There are no independently verified and published past prefomances of the horses in an equivalent of the Daily Racing Form - just self published hype in esoteric scriptures. The race is a very long and the winner takes all. The losers and their backers are tormented and tortured for all eternity after the race. The wagers can only be Win bets, there is no Place, Show or exotic (e.g perfecta, trifexta, quinella, etc.) wagering. The bets aren't placed with the track in a pari mutuel pool, they are placed with the owners of the horses. And the wagers aren't just one time bets. Each owner specifies how much the wager costs and requires you to continually add to your bet through tithing, demands on your time and prayers to the horse for the rest of your life. Some owners even control the diets of their bettors. All of the owners promise tremendous payoffs and they brag about previous bettors who have won big, but they can't verify this.

The most hyped horse in this race is the one (actually some say it has the power of three horses) owned by the Christians, which is a quarrelsome consortium of owners that can't agree on the jockey or the strategy of the race. These contentious owners can't even agree on the price of the bet or the payoff. There is a young horse owned by the Muslims, who are very demanding and cruel to their backers. They are specially intolerant of any criticism of their jockey, Mohammed. Another young horse is owned by the Mormons, who say their horse is a clone of the horse owned by the Christians. They also say if I win, I can become a horse in a future race. There is an old horse in the race owned by another consortium known as the Jews. To complicate the handicapping, this horse sired the colts owned by the Christians and the Muslims and possibly the one owned by the Mormons. Some owners such as the Hindus, Vikings, Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans have many horses in the race, but these owners (except the Hindus) have few bettors. There is a whole field of other horses owned by eclectic groups such as the Scientologists, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sikhs, Rastafarians, etc. All these owners have extremely strange betting schemes and also very few backers. There are a few fillies in the race , but they have all scratched except the one owned by the Wiccans. There is even a horse owned by the Buddhists, but they admit upon further questioning they really don't have horse in the race at all and if I win, I can bet again after being reincarnated.

Oh! and I forgot the most important part, most owners say they will not pay (but rather punish for all eternity) any backer who strays from the demanding betting scheme or who are disingenuous and only feigning his/her support.

There is no way I would ever place a bet in this race. Even if an amateurish handicapper who fails to see that there is no race and the horses are imaginary, would see this wagering sytem is unregulated and corrupt. All owners just keep the obscenely large purses extorted from thier bettors.

Pascal's wager is a childish analogy and fundamantalists that use it as a recruiting tool are fools. Do they not realize it distills their belief and god down to a poorly analyzed probability?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How can we make James Randi happy?

I just learned that James Randi's got cancer, apparently.

That sucks. He's aces. We don't have enough like him.

We must do our best to make him happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Poke Fun?

Is it not mean to point and laugh at boneheads?

No. It is a kindness.

The first thing to go when teh toopid hits is self-insight. Ignorant people often believe they know plenty. They're ignorant of their own ignorance. And it's this self-blindness that keeps them trapped.

The edumacation begins with, "Wow. I am retarded. I best STFU 'till I find out moar."